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Vitrectomy for Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes and a leading cause of blindness. It occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the retina (the tissue in the back of the eye). Diabetic retinopathy may not cause any changes in your vision at first, but over time it can get worse and cause vision loss, usually affecting both eyes.

As diabetic retinopathy advances, new blood vessels may begin to grow to help nourish the retinal tissue. Unfortunately, these new vessels are very fragile and thin and can leak blood into the eye. If you have this advanced stage, known as proliferative retinopathy, you may see specks of blood, or spots, floating in your vision.

It is very important to be examined by your doctor at the first sign of blurred vision, before more bleeding occurs. If left untreated, retinopathy can cause severe vision loss or even blindness. The earlier you receive treatment, the more likely treatment will be effective.

Treatment of Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy

If you have a lot of blood in the center of the eye (in the vitreous gel), you may need a vitrectomy to restore your sight. A vitrectomy is performed under local or general anesthesia in a surgery center or hospital. Your surgeon will create a tiny incision in your eye. Then a small instrument will be used to remove the vitreous gel that is clouded with blood. The gel is then replaced with a salt solution. Since the vitreous gel is mostly water, you should notice no difference between the gel and the salt solution.

Most patients are able to return home after the procedure is performed. Your eye may be red and sensitive and you may be required to wear an eye patch for a few days to protect the eye. You will also be prescribed medicated eye drops to prevent infection and inflammation.

The vitrectomy procedure is very effective in reducing vision loss. Patients with proliferative retinopathy have less than a five percent chance of becoming blind within five years when timely and appropriate treatment is received. Unfortunately, the procedure does not cure retinopathy. You will always be at risk for new bleeding, and re-treatment may be necessary.