Risk Factors for Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the eyes – more specifically, the retina, or the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eyes. Diabetes can damage the tiny blood cells that nourish the retina, causing irreversible vision loss and blindness. Unfortunately, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age American adults.

The team of San Diego diabetic retinopathy specialists at California Retina Associates is often asked about the risk factors for developing the condition. The primary risk factor for diabetic retinopathy is having diabetes. Anyone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. However, there are other factors that can elevate the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, including the following:

A Long History of Diabetes

The longer you have diabetes, the higher your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. The significant majority of people that have had diabetes for over 10 years develop at least some form of diabetic retinopathy.

Uncontrolled Blood Sugar Levels

The higher your blood sugar levels, the higher the risk of developing diabetic complications, especially diabetic retinopathy. If you have a persistently high glycated hemoglobin level, you are at a heightened risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

High Blood Pressure or Cholesterol

Your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are also important. If they are high, you are more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy. But the lower these levels are, the less likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy.

Tobacco Use

Smoking or using other forms of tobacco increases the risk of many diabetes complications, including diabetic retinopathy, as well as other blood vessel disorders.


Having gestational diabetes elevates the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

Certain Ethnic Backgrounds

If you are of African-American, Hispanic or Native American descent, you are more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy.

Managing Your Risk of Diabetic Retinopathy

Although some of the aforementioned risk factors are out of your control, simply being aware of your risk is essential. If you have diabetes, it is imperative that you visit an ophthalmologist (preferably a retinal specialist) at least once a year to have your eyes checked. Depending on your personal risk profile, you may be advised to schedule more frequent eye exams. A dilated eye exam can detect signs of the disease early, when it is more easily treatable with less invasive methods.

It’s also crucial that you work with your medical team to carefully manage your diabetes.  You should attend all doctor’s appointments, take your medication (e.g., insulin, blood pressure and cholesterol medications) as prescribed and follow your doctor’s instructions regarding your lifestyle habits. You should aim to get regular exercise and maintain a healthy weight.

Finally, if you start to notice changes in your vision, particularly spotty or hazy vision, schedule an appointment with a San Diego diabetic retinopathy specialist right away to review potential diabetic retinopathy symptoms. Early detection of the disease allows your medical team to instantly start treatment intervention and help preserve your precious vision.

Contact California Retina Associates

To contact the team at California Retina Associates, please call (619) 425-7755 or (760) 352-7755 or email us today. We have three office locations in Southern California, conveniently serving the entire county.