Friday, 11 September 2009

Background Retinopathy

I got a letter yesterday from the hospital, following up on my retinal scan that I had back in July. It came as a bit of a shock to read that I have something called ‘background retinopathy’. This is where the effects of diabetes have caused small blood vessels in the eyes to rupture and bleed onto the retina. At first, this sounds dreadful, and all those stories I had heard about diabetes being the major cause of blindness came flooding back! I read on, and was relieved to see that this was a condition that didn’t require immediate treatment, just extra monitoring in 6 months rather than waiting the full 12 months to my next scan. Consulting others on the forum reassured me that this form of retinopathy would not affect my sight, and may never progress. As long as good control of my blood sugar levels is maintained, then there is very little chance it will get worse and progress to the much more serious ‘proliferative retinopathy’, which can be sight-threatening.

I think I was upset chiefly by the unexpected nature of the letter. My control has been excellent since diagnosis, with my average BG levels (as measured by HbA1c tests) at non-diabetic levels – currently 5.2%. There is a possibility that the changes may have been caused by the rapid fall in my HbA1c levels after diagnosis – it reduced quickly from 11.8% to 6.5% within a few weeks, and background retinopathy can be caused byt this sharp reduction. I also have slightly raised blood pressure levels, and this is something that I am going to work on reducing as this can also contribute to the microvascular damage seen on my retina. I suppose another upsetting aspect is that this is really the first concrete evidence of diabetes having a negative effect on my health. The good news is that I am being closely monitored with the latest equipment, and, should the worse come to the worse, there are now laser treatments available which have proved very successful. These days, it is highly unlikely for someone as recently diagnosed as me to lose their sight because of diabetes, or indeed even if you have been diagnosed for 20-30 years!

So, I will be cutting out the alcohol and getting plenty of exercise to try and reduce that blood pressure. I might even discuss increasing my BP medication with my doctor, as I’m currently on the smallest dose. I’m less averse to taking medications now than I was a year ago – I think my body tolerates them better now that I am fully recovered from my initial illness and weight loss.

For anyone interested in reading further about diabetic retinopathy, I’d recommend the following site:

Oh dear! What can the matter be?
I’ve just found out that I have retinopathy!
That’s got to be worse than being locked in a lavatory
And nobody knowing you were there!

Let’s just calm down and read again properly…
The letter says, ‘you have got background retinopathy’,
‘This doesn’t need treatment’ – so that’s not the end for me,
It doesn’t mean I’m going blind!

This form of the changes is often just temporary,
And forms from the rupture of tiny capillaries,
Amongst diabetics it happens quite frequently,
But may not get worse through the years.

Now the hospital will keep a six-monthly check on me.
So it doesn’t become proliferative retinopathy,
That’s the kind that could end with me not being able to see,
And I certainly don’t want that, no siree!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Sorry about that it wouldn't let me edit.
    That was well worth blogging about. I often wonder if people who decide to make rapid changes in their control should be warned to go about it gradually.
    I like the poem too. I've been practicing a lot of variations on Oh dear, what can... on my concertina, hows your singing?

  3. My singing would kill small woodland creatures at 100 paces! I blame the diabetes... ;o)