What Is Diabetic Retinopathy And How Common Is It?

Question: What is diabetic retinopathy and how common is it?

Answer: Diabetic retinopathy is a disease of the retina that occurs in people with diabetes, and diabetic retinopathy is very common. About 7 percent of the population of the United States has diabetes, and many people with diabetes go on to develop retinopathy. So it's estimated now that over four million people in our country have diabetic retinopathy.

The retina is a light sensitive tissue that lines the inside of the eye, kind of like wallpaper in a room, and that tissue senses light and makes an image out of it to send back to the brain. It's kind of like film in an old fashioned film camera, and in diabetic retinopathy the blood vessels in the retina are damaged. The retina has blood vessels like any other tissue of the body, and with years of exposure to high sugar, the walls of those blood vessels can become leaky or the vessels can even close off -- both of which can be damaging to vision.