Retinopathy, as it relates to the conditions covered in this article, refers to damage to the blood vessels of the retina. The retina, at the back of the eye, provides a window to the circulatory system. By examining it, a doctor can inspect a sample of the body's blood vessels and detect early signs of complications of diabetes or high blood pressure, as well as many other diseases (e.g., sickle cell disease, anemia, lupus). Retinopathy can also be seen in premature newborns.
Some of the kinds of damage that your doctor may see in your retina are hypertensive retinopathy, a complication of high blood pressure (hypertension), and diabetic retinopathy, a complication of long-term diabetes.
It's unusual for hypertension to impair vision, but hypertensive retinopathy can lead to blockage of retinal arteries or veins, which in turn may eventually result in the loss of vision. A combination of both hypertensive and diabetic retinopathy puts people at a higher risk of vision loss. Smoking and diabetes increase the risk of developing hypertensive retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy is a deterioration of the blood vessels in the retina that usually affects both eyes. It is the leading cause of blindness in North America. Almost all people with diabetes show signs of retinal damage after about 20 years of living with the condition.