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Diabetic retinopathy – not so sweet complication

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Before we start talking about this topic, I think that it is necessary to define what is Diabetes Mellitus. This term, as you have seen, consists of two parts- Diabetes which means to evacuate a lot of liquid and Mellitus which means honey; together it signifies the expulsion of a lot of liquid (urine) with a sweet taste due to the excess amount of sugar present in the same. {{more}}This disease affects our body’s capacity to use and store sugar and is characterized by elevated concentrations of sugar in the blood, excessive thirst and increase in the number of times that the patient urinates. It also is capable of producing very severe complications to our eyes amongst which is diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of Diabetes Mellitus caused by deterioration of the blood vessels that irrigate our retina, which is a thin layer of tissue found in the back of the eye that converts light into images and by this means enables us to have vision.

About 60% of those patients with a 10-15 year history of Diabetes Mellitus will have a certain degree of damage to the blood vessels in their eyes and will be 25 times more likely to go blind compared to those who do not have this disease.

There are two types of diabetic retinopathy: non-proliferative which is considered to be the initial phase and proliferative which is more aggressive and is capable of producing hemorrhages (bleeding) inside the eye, an increase in the intra-ocular pressure, retinal detachment and severe loss of vision and blindness.

To detect the presence of this fateful infliction the ophthalmologist has to examine the inside of the eye with an instrument called an ophthalmoscope. This test is painless and should be done in all diabetic patients two or three times a year.

What is the treatment of these patients? Its success not only depends on the early detection of the diabetic retinopathy, its surveillance and treatment by your ophthalmologist but in great part on the seriousness and the care that the patient dedicates to this dangerous disease. There must be strict adherence to your diabetic diet, your medications should be taken as recommended by your doctor and if you are using insulin this should be an adequate dose so that your blood sugar is always well controlled. In accordance to the clinical stage of the patient’s eye laser photocoagulation can be done to stem the damage, that produces new blood vessels, a type of surgery called vitrectomy can be done when the vitreous humor is filled with blood or retinal surgery is done when there is detachment of the same.

Please do not forget, my fellow reader, the old saying that prevention is better than cure.

Dr Pedro Suarez

Consultant Ophthalmologist MCMH

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