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Diabetic retinopathy is a serious condition of the eyes that causes irreversible vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease that occurs in conjunction with diabetes and results in negative changes in the blood vessels in the retina, like swelling, fluid leakage, new abnormal blood vessel growth, or a complete blockage of vessels. Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes at once. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye that converts light into signals and information to the brain, which in turn creates the images we see.
Diabetic retinopathy can affect anyone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The longer a person suffers from diabetes the higher chance they have of developing diabetic retinopathy.
Pregnant women go through many changes, and many of these changes can worsen preexisting diabetes, or initiate gestational diabetes. The percent of pregnant women who develop high blood sugar or gestational diabetes during pregnancy is 9.2% as of 2014 according to studies by the Centers for Disease Control.
During pregnancy, women with preexisting or gestational diabetes may suffer from a sudden onset of diabetic retinopathy or a sudden worsening of their diabetic retinopathy condition. Diabetic women who have or develop hypertension during pregnancy are 35% more likely than diabetic women without hypertension to develop diabetic retinopathy.
The current national level of diabetes is 9.3% of the population, or 29.1 million Americans. Between 40% and 45% of all people with diabetes will suffer from some form of diabetic retinopathy. About 30% of adult Americans with diabetes, or 5 million people, also suffer from diabetic retinopathy. Among people with diabetes, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of severe vision loss and blindness.
Though there is still some uncertainty as to why pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, many doctors believe it is linked to the increased level hormones in the mother’s body that help the baby develop. The increased levels of hormones can cause women to develop insulin resistance, which decreases the body’s ability to use insulin.
Detecting the Onset of Diabetic Retinopathy
There are no specific early symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, so pregnant women with preexisting diabetes or gestational diabetes should visit their optometrist for regular eye exams or as frequently recommended by the doctor.
- Once diabetic retinopathy starts to develop, you may notice:
- Dark spots in your vision
- Blurry and distorted vision
- Eye pain
Prolonged diabetic retinopathy can cause scare tissue to form on the back of the retina, eventually leading to retinal detachment.
A professional eye exam can reveal swelling, leakage, or other factors associated with diabetic retinopathy.
Screening for women with preexisting diabetes is suggested before pregnancy, and again at 28 weeks if no diabetic retinopathy is detected, and once more at 30 weeks. If symptoms are detected, additional screening and treatments will be necessary.
Women with preexisting diabetes are especially prone to diabetic retinopathy during pregnancy. One study found the prevalence rate to increase to 77% during pregnancy for women with preexisting diabetes conditions.
If the mother has a severe case of diabetes, or suffers from a severe case of gestational diabetes, the baby will also be at greater risk for developing diabetes and subsequent conditions like diabetic retinopathy.
There are several treatment options available for diabetic retinopathy, but they are mostly aimed at mitigating damage and preventing further damage. Much of the serious damage caused by diabetic retinopathy is permanent.
But early detection can reduce severe vision loss by as much as 90%.
Laser treatments are the most common form of treatment for diabetic retinopathy. These treatments can be aimed at sealing off leaking blood vessels, or eliminating the growth of abnormal new blood vessels. Laser treatments can also be used to destroy parts of retina not required for basic, functional vision in order to increase the healthy blood flow to the crucial parts or the retina. Small laser burns can also be used to slow or stop leakage, and cut off the growth of new abnormal blood vessels.
There are also certain drugs that can be injected into the retina that may be able to reverse some damage if the diabetic retinopathy was caught early enough. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a protein that encourages the growth of the abnormal blood vessels in the retina that can block vision.
Diabetic Retinopathy Negligence
Both you and your doctor should remain aware of the symptoms and conditions associated with diabetes during pregnancy. If you are diabetic before pregnancy, you should be regularly monitoring your blood sugar, and you doctor should maintain careful records of any changes in your blood sugar levels, and should order the proper preemptive tests in order to note any irregularities before symptoms get too serious.
Blood sugar control is absolutely essential to the maintenance of diabetes and associated diseases like diabetic retinopathy. Your doctor should be actively monitoring your blood sugar levels.
If you suffered from diabetic retinopathy during pregnancy as a result of your doctor’s negligence, contact the attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian for a free consolation. The attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian are dedicated to helping you fully recover financial costs associated with medical negligence.