How does diabetic retinopathy progress in stage 1 and 2?

Updated: Dec 01, 2020
  • Author: Romesh Khardori, MD, PhD, FACP; Chief Editor: George T Griffing, MD  more...
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Answer

The first 2 stages of diabetic retinopathy are jointly referred to as background or nonproliferative retinopathy. Initially, the retinal venules dilate, then microaneurysms (tiny red dots on the retina that cause no visual impairment) appear. The microaneurysms or retinal capillaries become more permeable, and hard exudates appear, reflecting leakage of plasma.

Rupture of intraretinal capillaries results in hemorrhage. If a superficial capillary ruptures, a flame-shaped hemorrhage appears. Hard exudates are often found in partial or complete rings (circinate pattern), which usually include multiple microaneurysms. These rings usually mark an area of edematous retina.

The patient may not notice a change in visual acuity unless the center of the macula is involved. Macular edema can cause visual loss; therefore, all patients with suspected macular edema must be referred to an ophthalmologist for evaluation and possible laser therapy. Laser therapy is effective in decreasing macular edema and preserving vision but is less effective in restoring lost vision. (See Macular Edema in Diabetes.)


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