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What are the Four Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy?

In your retina, there are tiny blood vessels working together with other parts of your eye to create clear vision. If you suffer from diabetic retinopathy, those tiny blood vessels have high amounts of sugar in them (this is referred to as high blood sugar). These sugar levels are dangerous to the health of your vision, as it can cause irreversible vision loss. Allow us to highlight the four stages of diabetic retinopathy and the signs to watch for.

What is Stage One of Diabetic Retinopathy?

The first stage of diabetic retinopathy is referred to as mild non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy. You’ll see the terms non-proliferative and proliferative throughout the rest of this blog, so let’s define them for clarity:

  • Non-proliferative: to remain fixed
  • Proliferative: to grow or multiply

In stage one, the blood vessels in your eye’s retina will begin to swell and will create micro aneurysms. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, “Microaneurysms are usually the earliest visible manifestation of diabetic retinopathy. They appear as tiny red dots scattered in the retina posteriorly. They may be surrounded by a ring of yellow lipid, or hard, exudates.”

When the micro aneurysms grow, they may leak into the retina. Once leakage is detected, the macula begins to swell.

What is Stage Two of Diabetic Retinopathy?

Stage two of diabetic retinopathy is referred to as moderate, non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy. In this stage, the tiny blood cells that have begun to swell are causing serious issues with sufficient blood flow to the retina. Without proper blood flow, the retina cannot receive the nourishment it needs to produce clear vision. The lack of proper blood flow will also cause blood and other fluids to gather in the macula and cause vision issues.

What is Stage Three of Severe Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy?

From mild to moderate to severe, stage three of diabetic retinopathy is referred to as severe, non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Due to the accumulation of blood and fluids in the macula, even more blood vessels in the retina are blocked which drastically affects blood flow. The body tries to correct the issue by growing new blood vessels in the retina which will trigger stage four of diabetic retinopathy.

What is Stage Four of Diabetic Retinopathy?

Once you enter stage four of diabetic retinopathy, your condition is no longer considered “non-proliferative.” It is now referred to as proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Stage four is characterized by the additional blood vessels breaking and causing fluid leakage in your eye. Extra fluid will cause vision issues and possibly blindness.

What are the Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy?

Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy rarely has symptoms. If you notice any of the symptoms of proliferative diabetic retinopathy, consult a Vision Eye Group doctor right away: 478-744-1710.

  • Blurry or distorted vision
  • Change in colors
  • Decreased field of vision
  • Eye floaters
  • Trouble seeing in the dark
  • Vision loss

Make an appointment with your friendly Middle Georgia eye doctor if you notice any diabetic retinopathy symptoms or want an eye exam.