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Eye Exams & Diabetic Retinopathy at Alabama Eye & Cataract Center at UAB Highlands in Birmingham, AL

Eye Exams & Diabetic Eye Problems
They eye physicians and surgeons at Alabama Eye & Surgery Center, P.C. provide comprehensive eye exams for diabetic eye problems including diabetic retinopathy. Although there is no cure for diabetic retinopathy, annual eye exams for diabetes patients are essential to help slow the progression of diabetic eye disease and its associated vision loss. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control show that diabetes affects approximately 26 million people in the United States. In addition, diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults 20-74 years of age with almost 8 million people ages 40 and older suffering from diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes characterized by a weakening of  blood vessels in the  retina so that they break down,  causing the  retina to swell, hemorrhage and become deprived of oxygen and nutrients, ultimately leading to vision loss.

About Diabetic Retinopathy
Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic Retinopathy tends to appear and progress in stages beginning with Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy, progressing to Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy, further advancing to Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy and without proper attention progressing into the most severe stage, Proliferative Retinopathy.

Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy
Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy is the earliest stage of Diabetic Retinopathy. It is characterized by the presence of “dot” and “blot” hemorrhages and “microanuerysms” in the Retina. Microanuerysms are areas of balloon like swelling of the tiny blood vessels in the Retina caused by the weakening of their structure. Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy can be present without any change in your vision. Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy usually does not require treatment unless it progresses or is accompanied by Diabetic Macular Edema. If you have Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy, we will make specific recommendations about how often you will need to be reexamined and whether any additional testing might be required by a Retinal Specialist.

Diabetic Macular Edema is a common cause of vision loss from diabetes. Normally, the small blood vessels in the retina do not leak. One of the early effects of diabetes is to cause the blood vessels in the retina to begin to leak by weakening the inner lining of the blood vessels so that they become porous. Leakage from the retinal blood vessels may cause the center of the Retina, the Macula, to actually swell, a condition called Diabetic Macular Edema. Diabetic Macular Edema can occur in any stage of diabetic retinopathy.

Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy 
Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy is the second and slightly more severe stage of Diabetic Retinopathy. It is similar to the mild stages, but with more extensive changes. During this stage, some of the small blood vessels in the Retina may become damaged enough so that they close off. The closure of these tiny blood vessels causes a decrease in the supply of nutrients and oxygen to certain areas of the Retina which is termed ischemia.

Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy 
Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy is the next stage of Diabetic Retinopathy and is characterized by an extensive amount of retinal blood vessel damage and ischemia. Patients with severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy are at a high risk of going to the next stage of retinopathy-the proliferative stage.

Proliferative Retinopathy
Proliferative Retinopathy is the most severe stage of Diabetic Retinopathy and carries a significant risk of vision loss. In an attempt to compensate for the lack of oxygen supply, areas of the Retina send signals to stimulate the growth of new blood vessels in order to try and reestablish the supply of oxygen.  These chemical signals stimulate the growth of new, but abnormal blood vessels, a process called neovascularization. When Retinal Neovascularization is present, you have progressed into the stage of Diabetic Retinopathy called Proliferative Retinopathy. It might seem that new blood vessel growth or neovascularization is a desirable event, as it will provide the Retina with greater blood flow and thus more oxygen and nutrients. However this is not the case at all. Retinal Neovascularization is formed from new blood vessels that are extremely fragile and tend to break easily and hemorrhage into the Vitreous. If left untreated, Proliferative Retinopathy may lead to bleeding into the Vitreous and Retinal Detachment with profound vision loss.

Prevention of Diabetic Retinopathy
It is also important for patients with diabetes to help reduce their risk of developing diabetic eye disease by not smoking, controlling their cholesterol and lipid profile and blood pressure, as well as working to eat a heart-healthy diet rich in fish, fruit and green leafy vegetables and exercising.
With early diagnosis and treatment, progression of diabetic eye disease and its associated vision loss can at a minimum be slowed, and in many cases vision loss from diabetic retinopathy can be prevented.

If you or someone you know has diabetes and would like to learn more about diabetic eye disease or diabetic retinopathy, or needs an appointment for a diabetic eye exam, please call Alabama Eye & Cataract Center at 205-930-0930 to schedule an appointment.