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Stages - Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy develops in stages.

There are 3 main stages of diabetic retinopathy. You may not experience all of these.

Stage 1: Background retinopathy

Tiny swellings appear in the blood vessels in the back of your eyes (retina). These may leak small amounts of blood. This is very common in people with diabetes.

At this stage:

  • your sight is not affected but you're more at risk of problems in the future
  • you do not need treatment, but you'll need to take care to stop the problem getting worse
  • there is a 1 in 4 chance that it could progress to the other stages in the next 3 years

Stage 2: Pre-proliferative retinopathy

There are more severe and widespread changes in the retina. These could include bleeding into the retina.

At this stage:

  • there is a high risk that your vision could be affected
  • you will usually have more frequent appointments (every 3 to 6 months) to check your retina

Stage 3: Proliferative retinopathy

New blood vessels and scar tissue have formed on your retina. If this is not treated, it can cause significant bleeding and lead to retinal detachment. This is where the retina pulls away from the back of the eye.

At this stage:

  • there's a very high risk of sight loss
  • treatment will be offered to stop your vision getting worse but it may not be possible to restore any vision you've lost

Diabetic maculopathy

The blood vessels in the central area of the retina (macula) can also become leaky or blocked. This is known as diabetic maculopathy.

If this is found:

  • there's a high risk that your vision could be affected
  • you may need more frequent specialised eye tests
  • you will be referred to an eye doctor who will talk about treatments that can help stop the problem getting worse

Treating diabetic retinopathy

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 13 May 2024
Next review due: 13 May 2027

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.