Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes Mellitus is a common condition where there is poor blood sugar control.

This results in damage to the blood microcirculation to many organs in the body e.g. the kidneys.

Unfortunately, diabetes mellitus also affects the eye. In fact, it is one of the most common causes of irreversible blindness in the western world.

Diabetic retinopathy

When diabetes mellitus affects the eye, it is called diabetic retinopathy.

Longer duration of being diabetic, poorer control of diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol all make it more likely that diabetic retinopathy will develop.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy with new vessels at the optic disc. Credits: AAO

Doctors classify diabetic retinopathy into a non-proliferative and proliferative form. ‘Proliferative’ refers to the growth of abnormal blood vessels at the back of the eye, called the retina. These abnormal blood vessels are fragile and can bleed and cause the eyeball to be filled with blood.




Diabetic maculopathy. Credits: AAO

Diabetic maculopathy. Credits: AAO

The part of the eye that provides or serves the sharpest vision is called the macular. When it is affected by fluid leakages from leaky blood vessels due to diabetes, it is called diabetic maculopathy. Diabetic maculopathy is a common cause of visual impairment in the world.

Fortunately, diabetic retinopathy can be prevented with good blood sugar and blood pressure control. Early detection can also prevent serious visual impairment.  A yearly eye check is recommended.


Treatments include laser treatment (focal, grid and panretinal photocoagulation) and anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) injections into the eye.

Rarely, surgery called vitrectomy is required to either remove blood in the eye or to facilitate removal of fibrous membranes that form on the retina.