Retinopathy: Definition, Causes, Symptoms, Complications and Treatment

This term applies to any damage caused to the blood vessels of the retina, which is located in the back of the eye.

The examination of this organ allows a medical specialist to examine a sample of the blood vessels of the body and to detect early signs of complications of diabetes or high blood pressure, but also of other conditions (for example, sickle cells, anemia, lupus ).

Now, keep in mind that this disease not only occurs in adults but also, retinopathy can affect children born prematurely.

Your doctor can see the damage done to your retina by conditions such as hypertensive retinopathy, a complication caused by high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetic retinopathy, a complication that has been caused by diabetes for several years.

Hypertension usually does not affect vision, but hypertensive retinopathy can cause obstruction of the arteries or veins of the retina and cause loss of vision. Smoking and diabetes increase the risk of hypertensive retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is characterized by the decomposition of blood vessels in the retina of each eye. It is the leading cause of blindness in North America. Almost all people with diabetes show signs of damage to the retina after living with this condition for approximately 20 years.

Causes

This condition is usually a sign of another disease. Although many medical conditions (eg, sickle cell disease, lupus) can cause retinopathy, they are most often caused by diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure).

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes. Diabetes is characterized by high levels of sugar in the blood that can damage blood vessels.

Injured retinal vessels can filter proteins and fatty acids that form deposits and eventually interfere with vision. Damaged blood vessels do not provide oxygen to the retina effectively and other damage may occur.

In the advanced form, known as proliferative retinopathy, the new blood vessels multiply abundantly in the eye. Its fragility is often responsible for breaks that cause bleeding in the eye. Bleeding can cause scars on the eye and interrupt vision.

Hypertensive retinopathy is a complication of high blood pressure and usually develops over a period of years. High blood pressure damages blood vessels, which swell and contract under their influence.

The blood supply to the retina decreases and damage occurs. It can cause a leak of blood in the retina and cause more damage.

Symptoms and complications

It is possible that absolutely no symptoms are observed during the early stage of diabetic retinopathy. As the condition progresses, the symptoms include:

  • Blurry vision.
  • Fluctuations in vision.
  • Blind spots.
  • A change in the perception of colors.
  • Sudden vision loss
  • Double vision.
  • Ocular pain in more advanced cases.

Microaneurysms are the first signs of diabetic retinopathy that your doctor can detect. It consists of dilatations that consist of a pocket in the wall of the small blood vessels of the retina.

They appear as small red dots in the back of the eye and when they sometimes burst, they cause bleeding in the retina and blurred vision.

A more advanced form of diabetic retinopathy called proliferative diabetic retinopathy can cause scars that are responsible for poor vision.

In a case of proliferative retinopathy, new blood vessels multiply in the retina and in the vitreous body (the sticky substance between the lens and the retina). These blood vessels can swell and explode; the bleeding that continues to damage the eye.

In some cases, the blood is reabsorbed, but often the retina breaks down and causes total blindness .

As with diabetic retinopathy, symptoms may not be seen in the early stages of hypertensive retinopathy. However, as the disorder progresses, the symptoms include:

  • Headaches.
  • Abnormalities of the visual field.
  • Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes.
  • Double vision.

Treatment

In the case of retinopathy, the best treatment is prevention. This would imply a change in eating habits, focusing as much as possible on the reduction of the consumption of sugar-rich foods so that, in this sense, the degradation of visual power is not drastically reduced.

However, in most cases, when the disease presents with significant vision impairment, then laser surgery is the best alternative.

In this operation it is necessary to apply anesthetic drops or a local injection. The patient is then placed in front of a slit lamp and a contact lens is also introduced into the eye that will direct the laser light to the area in which it is required to operate.

Laser surgery is highly recommended to treat retinopathy, because, due to its accuracy of millimeters, it achieves very positive results for the patient.