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When you have diabetes mellitus your body does not use and store sugars properly. Blood vessels in the retina can become damaged when sugar levels are high. The retina is the nerve layer at the back portion of the eye that senses light and sends images to the brain. When the retina is damages as a result of high sugar levels it is referred to as diabetic retinopathy.

There are two types of diabetic retinopathy.

Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), an early stage of diabetic retinopathy. Tiny blood vessels within the retina leak blood or fluid at this stage.This leaking of fluid causes the retina to become swollen and can also form deposits called exudates. Mild NPDR occurs in many patients with diabetes and usually vision is not affected. When vision is affected it is a result of macular edema, and/or macular ischemia.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PRD), occurs when neovascularization begins growing on the surface of the retina or the optic nerve. Neovascularization is abnormal new vessels. Widespread closure of retinal blood vessels is one of the main causes of PDR, this prevents adequate blood flow. In an attempt to supply blood to the area where vessels have closed the retina responds by growing new blood vessels. These new abnormal blood vessels do not supply the retina with normal blood flow. Scar tissue is also usually paired with these new vessels and may cause a detachment or wrinkling of the retina.

PDR can affect both peripheral and central vision loss.