Diabetic retinopathy is a type of diabetic eye disease that can cause vision problems and eventually, blindness. If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, you were likely informed that the disease progresses through four stages.
Exactly what are the four stages of diabetic retinopathy? In what way are they connected to the causes and symptoms of diabetic retinopathy? And is there any way to slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy through treatment?
Eye Center of Texas is an expert on diabetic eye diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema (DME), and fast-growing cataracts. Together, we’ll explore the answers to these questions and more below.
The four stages of diabetic retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is caused by an excess of blood glucose in the blood vessels of the retina. The quickest way to know the answer to the question, “What are the four stages of diabetic retinopathy?” is to track the status of these blood vessels.
Stage 1: Mild nonproliferative retinopathy — microaneurysms
What is the first sign of diabetic retinopathy? Microaneurysms — dilated capillaries which look like a small red dot or balloon — are often the first sign of diabetic retinopathy. However, microaneurysms do not affect vision and often go unnoticed as a result.
Stage 2: Moderate nonproliferative retinopathy — blocked blood vessels
In this stage, the blood vessels in the eye become too swollen to properly provide nourishment to the retina. These changes often cause visible changes to the retina. An increased likelihood of DME is associated with patients who reach this stage of diabetic retinopathy. (Read more about DME and macular puckers on our blog.)
Stage 3: Severe nonproliferative retinopathy — more blocked blood vessels & a call for help
At this stage, a significant portion of the blood vessels in your retina are now blocked, severely decreasing the necessary blood flow to the retina. Eventually, the retina will begin to send out signals, telling the body to grow new blood vessels.
Stage 4: Proliferative retinopathy — blood vessels grow on the retina
Stage four diabetic retinopathy is the most advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy, during which new blood vessels begin to grow on the retina. Unfortunately, these blood vessels are typically both weak and abnormal, which can lead to blood leaking into the eye, vision problems, and potentially blindness.
Diabetic retinopathy complications:
Besides vision loss and blindness, untreated diabetic retinopathy can lead to even more complications. These complications can include glaucoma — pressure in the eye due to a buildup of fluid — and retinal detachment — the pulling away of the retina from the back of the eye due to scar tissue buildup.
Diabetic retinopathy treatment & prevention:
The question about diabetic retinopathy we most often hear after, “What are the four stages of diabetic retinopathy?” is, “Is diabetic retinopathy reversible or treatable?”
While diabetic retinopathy is not reversible, it is highly treatable. Active, regular, and proper management of your diabetes, blood sugar, and blood pressure can significantly reduce the chances of experiencing blindness.
Many patients are also eligible for diabetic retinopathy surgery. Called laser photocoagulation, this procedure can be performed in-office in less than 30 minutes. During the procedure, a laser is used to target leaking blood vessels, sealing them or destroying them before they can cause further vision problems.
Stage 0: Talk with an eye specialist about diabetic retinopathy
The sooner diabetic retinopathy is caught and diagnosed, the better your body will respond to treatment. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes, it is wise to routinely consult with an expert at Eye Center of Texas to check for any signs of diabetic eye disease.
While there, you can also ask other vision-related questions, such as “Now that I have diabetes, is my vision too bad for LASIK?” and receive answers from the experts who provide some of the best LASIK in Houston.
Diabetes doesn’t have to lead to blindness. Make Eye Center of Texas part of your vision of the future. To meet with one of our doctors at our six Houston-area locations, call us at 713-797-1010 or request an appointment online today.