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Key Facts About Diabetic Retinopathy for Your Patients and Staff

There are approximately 463 million people in the world living with diabetes.1 Out of all people living with diabetes, type 1 and type 2, 80% of diabetic patients will eventually develop some stage of diabetic retinopathy.2 The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely they are to develop diabetic retinopathy.

What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that can cause vision loss and even blindness. It occurs when high blood sugar levels damage tiny blood vessels in the retina, causing them to leak or hemorrhage, ultimately distorting vision once progressed to severe levels.

Diabetic macular edema (DME) is the buildup of fluid in the macula. DME is a consequence of diabetic retinopathy and is responsible for about 50% of vision loss associated with diabetic retinopathy.3

There Are No Early Symptoms

There are typically no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, allowing the disease to progress until it affects vision. Once symptoms appear, vision loss may be permanent, even with treatment. Symptoms that indicate advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Halos around lights
  • Loss of central and color vision
  • Floaters

Early Detection Is Key

The typical standard of care for diabetic patients is to receive an annual diabetic retinal exam with an ophthalmologist or optometrist. Unfortunately, only about half of patients with diabetes visit the eye specialist for annual retinal exams.4, 5 To help increase compliance, new technology has been developed to bring diabetic retinal exams into primary care settings.

Teleretinal imaging allows diabetic patients to receive their diabetic retinal exam during their routine appointment. Images of the patient’s retina are obtained via retinal camera and digitally read by a remote eye specialist. Results can be returned to the patient in as quickly as one day with select care delivery models. As a result, diabetic retinal exam compliance rates can increase up to 90% within one year.6

What Can You Do?

95% of vision loss cases are preventable with early detection and treatment.3 Diabetic patients can help manage their disease by:3, 7

  • Taking prescribed medications
  • Avoiding tobacco use
  • Managing blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Focusing on healthy eating
  • Exercising on a regular basis
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Receiving an annual comprehensive eye exam

As always, it is crucial that diabetic patients follow their doctor’s treatment plan.

To help educate your patients and staff, we’ve created a helpful infographic that conveys the importance of an early diabetic retinopathy diagnosis.

Diabetic Retinopathy Infographic


  1. IDF Diabetes Atlas, Ninth Edition 2019.
  2. Duration of diabetes is a major risk factor associated with the development of diabetic retinopathy. After five years, approximately 25% of type 1 patients will have retinopathy, increasing to 80% after 15 years. For type 2 patients, the risk of developing retinopathy is 84% and 53% after 19 years for those taking or not taking insulin, respectively. Diabetic Retinopathy Preferred Practice Pattern® from the American Academy of Ophthalmology,, ISSN 0161-6420/19. Accessed July 29, 2020.
  3. National Eye Institute, Facts about Diabetic Eye Disease.
  4. Monitoring Visual Status: Why Patients Do or Do Not Comply with Practice Guidelines; Frank A. Sloan, Derek S. Brown, Emily Streyer Carlisle, Gabriel A. Picone, and Paul P. Lee; HSR: Health Services Research 39:5 (October 2004)
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes Report Card 2017. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2018.
  6. Comparing the Effectiveness of Telemedicine and Traditional Surveillance in Providing Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Examinations: A Randomized Controlled Trial; Mansberger et al, Telemedicine and e-Health, Vol. 19 No. 12, Dec. 2013.
  7. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Top Five Steps to Help Prevent Diabetic Eye Diseases. Accessed October 4, 2018.