How Fast Does Diabetic Retinopathy Progress?

Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes which affects the small blood vessels in the lining at the back of the eye. This lining is called the retina. A healthy retina is necessary for good eyesight. Diabetic retinopathy can cause the blood vessels in the retina to leak or become blocked and damage your sight.

Typically, diabetic patients will develop diabetic retinopathy after they have had diabetes for between 3-5 years. In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy will not affect the sight, but if it is not treated and progresses, eventually the sight will be affected.

Diabetic retinopathy has four stages; they are mild, moderate, severe non-proliferative retinopathy and proliferative retinopathy.

Mild Non-Proliferative Retinopathy – In the earliest stage of retinopathy, micro-aneurysms (small balloon-like swelling) occurs in the retina’s tiny blood vessels.  

Moderate Non-Proliferative Retinopathy – At this stage, some of the retina’s blood vessels become blocked.

Severe Non-Proliferative Retinopathy – As the disease progresses further, many more of the blood vessels become blocked, depriving the retina of its necessary blood supply. Due to this short supply of blood, the retina sends signals to grow new blood vessels for nourishment. 

Proliferative Retinopathy – In the advanced stage, the retina signals trigger the growth of new blood vessels; these are abnormal and fragile. They grow along the surface of the clear, vitreous gel that fills the inside of the eye. As these new retinal blood vessels develop and grow abnormally, their fragile walls may leak blood and cause severe vision loss or blindness.

How quickly diabetic retinopathy progresses depends on several factors including blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. This is why it is so important that patients control their diabetes with exercise, healthy diet and prescribed medications. Because retinopathy does not affect vision in the early stages, it is vital that diabetic patients maintain regular vision exams, at least once a year. To schedule an appointment with our doctors in Phoenix, contact Associated Retina Consultants at 602-242-4928 or website