Diabetic Eye Disease

What You Should Know

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a common complication of diabetes.
It is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. It is characterized by progressive damage to the blood vessels of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that is necessary for good vision.
DR progresses through 4 stages, mild nonproliferative retinopathy (microaneurysms), moderate nonproliferative retinopathy (blockage in some retinal vessels), severe nonproliferative retinopathy (more vessels are blocked leading to deprived retina from blood supply leading to growing new blood vessels), and proliferative retinopathy (most advanced stage). Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.

The risks of DR are reduced through disease management that includes good control of blood sugar, blood pressure, and lipid abnormalities. Early diagnosis of DR and timely treatment reduce the risk of vision loss; however, as many as 50% of patients are not getting their eyes examined or are diagnosed too late for treatment to be effective.

It is the leading cause of blindness among working-aged adults in the United States ages 20–74. An estimated 4.1 million and 899,000 Americans are affected by retinopathy and vision-threatening retinopathy, respectively (courtesy of CDC).

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Definition, Causes, Symptoms

Please visit the National Eye Institute website with patient information on diabetic retinopathy. The site is designed to help patients and their families search for general information about diabetic retinopathy. An eye care professional who has examined the patient's eyes and is familiar with his or her medical history is the best person to answer specific questions.


Take this quiz and find out how much you know about diabetic retinopathy.

General overview for Patients, Families and Friends

This booklet was developed by the National Eye Institute for people with diabetic retinopathy and their families and friends. It provides information about diabetic retinopathy and answers questions about the cause and symptoms of this progressive eye disease. Diagnosis and types of treatment are described.

Experience firsthand how a person with diabetic retinopathy sees the environment.
Please make sure to check the CDC Website for different types of diabetic retinopathy.

Normal Vision, courtesy of National Eye Institute

Vision Affected by diabetic eye disease, courtesy of National Eye Institute