Diabetic Retinopathy Screening and Diagnosis

Your eye doctor will likely diagnose diabetic retinopathy, either nonproliferative or proliferative, if an eye examination reveals any of the following:

Other risk factors for diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Leaking blood vessels.
  • Retinal hemorrhage.
  • Swollen retina.
  • Fatty deposits (exudates) in the retina.
  • Areas of nerve fiber damage (cotton-wool spots).
  • Changes in blood vessels, such as closures, beading or loops.
  • Microaneurysms.
  • Formation of new blood vessels (neovascularization).
  • Vitreous hemorrhage.
  • Scar tissue formation with retinal detachment.

As part of an eye examination, your doctor may include a diagnostic procedure called fluorescein angiography to identify leaking blood vessels.

In fluorescein angiography, your doctor injects a dye into a vein in your arm. The dye circulates through your eyes, making the blood vessels in your retina easy to identify. Your doctor can pinpoint areas where normal blood vessels have become closed or have broken down and are leaking fluid. A camera with special filters takes flash pictures every few seconds for several minutes, providing your doctor with useful images.

Your doctor also may request an optical coherence tomography (OCT) examination. This noninvasive imaging scan provides high resolution images of the retina that show, for example, the thickness of the retina and whether fluid has leaked into retinal tissue. OCT exams can be useful both as a diagnostic tool and as a way of monitoring treatment effectiveness.