What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy and Who Can Get It

Dr. Amit Gupta, MD, FACS, Ophthalmologist, talks about the cause of diabetic retinopathy and also who typically gets it.

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Dr. Amit Gupta, MD, FACS, Ophthalmologist, talks about the cause of diabetic retinopathy and also who typically gets it.
Video transcript

Featuring Amit Gupta, MD, FACS, Ophthalmologist

Duration: 3 minutes, 17 seconds

Diabetes is a lot of sugar in your blood, and that is about the limit of what most people—patients—understand about diabetes. But what is the implication of that is the real problem. Sugar is high, your doctor tells you to control your sugars, you look at the numbers, you get frustrated, but at the end of the day you feel fine.

And that is the problem. The diabetes, the sugar in the blood, it’s a sticky substance, just like water—sugar and water makes the water sticky. Sugar in the blood makes the blood sticky; it clogs the blood vessels, damages blood vessels head to toe. And the result is, it damages your organs like corrosion, slowly over time.

And years later, you find out that all those years you thought you were okay—with a little bit of high sugar, or eating a little bit of sugar—it catches up with you. And that’s when you end up with things like diabetic eye disease, kidney disease or other problems due to diabetes.

Diabetes affects the eye in so many different ways. It is the number one cause of blindness in the working-age group worldwide. Certainly in Canada and America despite our great health systems, it is still a very big cause of blindness. It affects the blood vessels. The blood vessels are in the back of the eye in the retina, and they slowly leak, they bleed and they get blocked.

The blocked blood vessels actually cause a lot of areas of the retina that don’t have blood flow, and that causes the retina to try to grow new blood vessels. In the end, these new blood vessels can also bleed, break, filling the eye with blood, or literally tear the retina up, causing total permanent blindness.

It needs to be managed before it gets to these stages. And even worse than that, the worst-case scenario would be a totally blind eye that is, in addition, very painful. We want to avoid that, and diabetes needs to be treated, as does the diabetic eye disease, or diabetic retinopathy.

In terms of age, diabetes can affect juvenile diabetics, usually not till they’re in their teens, if they’ve got diabetes at an earlier age. It also affects people with adult onset diabetes, or type 2 diabetes. People think that if they’re type 2 they’re less susceptible to these diseases. While that may be true, they can equally go blind as a younger person can with type 1 diabetes.

So, diabetes can affect all age groups. It really depends on your sugar levels, not just what age you are. And usually, these are people that are in the working age group or young people.

If you have diabetes, your optometrist will usually monitor this, and if they see any serious problems, if they see things getting worse, we’ll tend to refer you to an ophthalmologist, who can then either manage or further escalate to a retina specialist depending on the treatment needs.

Presenter: Dr. Amit Gupta, Ophthalmologist, Scarborough, ON

Local Practitioners: Ophthalmologist

This content is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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