Background retinopathy is an early stage of retinal damage when small blood vessels in the retina show signs of damage that can result from diabetes.
If you have been diagnosed with background diabetic retinopathy, your health team will keep monitoring you to spot any progression of retinopathy and will recommend any treatment that may help to prevent retinopathy from worsening.
I have received a letter saying I have background retinopathy, what should I do?
Retinopathy is a common condition amongst people with diabetes and needn’t always be a sign that your diabetes is badly controlled.
If you have background retinopathy, it is an early warning sign that your diabetes has lead to some damage of the small blood vessels of your retina.
This does not usually result in immediate sight problems but it means that if retinopathy develops to the next stage, it is important that this is spotted and treated early enough to avoid sight problems occurring.
What is background retinopathy?
Background retinopathy is said to occur if you have developed microaneurysms on your retina. Microaneurysms are when there is a swelling of the capillaries (very small blood vessels) that feed the retina.
The presence of relatively small numbers of microaneurysms will not usually cause problems with vision. If the extent of retinopathy is able to grow more significantly, however, this is more likely to present a risk to your vision.
Retinopathy can be treated, so it is important that you attend retinopathy screening appointments.
Symptoms of background retinopathy
The signs of background retinopathy are usually only noticeable through a retinal screening check, whereby a photograph is taken of your retina.
How common is background retinopathy?
Some form of retinopathy is common in people with diabetes. A study carried out in 2002 by the Royal Liverpool University Hospital reviewed 831 patients with type 1 diabetes and 7,231 people with type 2 diabetes and found the following results:
- 45.7% of people with type 1 diabetes had some form of retinopathy
- 25.3% of people with type 2 diabetes had some form of retinopathy
It is worth noting that the higher incidence of retinopathy in people with type 1 diabetes is influenced by these patients having lived with diabetes for a significantly longer period of time than people with type 2 diabetes.
How serious is background retinopathy?
Background retinopathy will not usually present an immediate risk to sight but it should be treated seriously and it is important to attend retinal screenings so your health team can monitor any development in the condition and, where necessary, provide treatment to limit the progression of retinopathy.
If retinopathy develops into other forms, such as maculopathy or proliferative retinopathy, it is important that treatment is received quickly (within a year) to prevent your sight from being affected.