Overview

Diabetic retinopathy screening (DRS) is a test to check if the small blood vessels in the retina (back of the eye) have leaked or become blocked.

This screening test is for only for people with diabetes.

Around 1 in 25 people that have the test will be referred to an eye specialist for investigation or treatment.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the cells in the retina.

Left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness or serious damage to your eyesight.

Who's at risk?

There are no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy so you may not realise that you have it.

If you have diabetes, there are a number of risk factors for developing diabetic retinopathy, including:

  • the length of time you have had diabetes
  • having a high blood glucose level
  • having high blood pressure

More about the causes of diabetic retinopathy

Reducing your risk

You can reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by:

  • controlling your blood glucose levels
  • getting your blood pressure checked regularly
  • speaking to your optician if you have a problem with your sight
  • taking your medication as prescribed
  • attending your DRS appointments

Who'll be screened?

In Scotland, DRS is offered every year to anyone aged 12 and over with diabetes.

300,000 people in Scotland have diabetes. 264,000 of these are eligible for DRS every year.

What does it involve?

To find out if you have diabetic retinopathy, a health professional will take photographs of the back of your eyes.

The test usually takes 10 minutes, but can take up to 30 minutes if eye drops are used.

Your screening invitation

The DRS test is done at different locations across Scotland. You might have the test at your GP surgery or optometrists.

Where you have the test will depend on your health board. They'll write to you to tell you where and when your test will be.

When you get your invitation, read the information carefully and decide whether you want to take the test.

If you'd like to bring a friend, or arrange for an interpreter, mention this when making your appointment.

Benefits and risks

As with any test, there are benefits and risks involved in diabetic retinopathy screening (DRS). It’s important that you’re aware of these before accepting a screening invitation.

Benefits

DRS can reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by finding the condition before you notice any changes to your sight.

When the condition is caught early, treatment is effective at reducing or preventing damage to your sight. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of sight loss in people of working age.

Risks

There can be some side effects if eye drops are used:

  • your eyes may sting briefly
  • your eyes are likely to become sensitive to bright light - you may want to bring sunglasses to wear after the test
  • you can have blurred vision - you should arrange another way to get home after your appointment as it might not be safe to drive

Taking the test

The diabetic retinopathy screening (DRS) test involves taking photographs of your retinas (back of your eyes) and examining them for changes.

You'll usually have the test at your GP surgery or local optometrists.

Your appointment will usually take no more than 30 minutes.

Before the test

Before the test, a health professional will check your details and explain the test to you. You'll have an opportunity to ask questions.

You should bring the following with you when you attend your appointment:

  • all of the glasses and contact lenses you wear
  • the lens solution for your contacts

To make sure photos are of a good enough quality, you might be given eye drops before the test.

During the test

The person doing your test will:

  • take photographs of the back of your eyes - the camera doesn't come into contact with your eyes
  • check the photos for signs of retinopathy

The test usually takes 10 minutes, but can take up to 30 minutes if eye drops are used.

What happens at your DRS appointment (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOyUAzjJQS8)

Watch NHS Tayside's video explaining what happens during a DRS appointment.

After the test

You'll usually get your results by letter within 4 weeks.

Your GP and hospital diabetes clinic will also get a copy of your test results.

Eye tests

Even though your eyes will be checked during your DRS test, you should continue to have regular eyes tests at your opticians.

Test results

You'll usually get your test results by letter within 4 weeks. If you haven't had your results within 4 weeks, contact your GP surgery.

Your GP and hospital diabetes clinic will also get a copy of your test results.

Negative result

Most people who take the test have a negative result, which means:

  • no changes were found in their retina (back of the eye)
  • there’s no evidence of diabetic retinopathy

If this is the case:

  • you won't need any further investigations or treatment
  • you'll be invited to be screened again in a years time

Positive result

If they find any slight changes in your eyes, they'll ask you to take another test in 6 months' time.

If these changes need to be investigated or treated, they'll refer you to an eye specialist. The hospital eye clinic will contact you to arrange an appointment.

Inconclusive result

If your photographs aren't clear or of a good enough quality, they'll ask you to take a second test.

If you agree to take a second test, they'll arrange an appointment for you.

View your results online

If you've registered, you can view your DRS test results through My Diabetes My Way.

Further information

If you’re unsure about anything, or have any questions about diabetic retinopathy screening (DRS), phone:

  • your GP surgery
  • the NHS inform helpline on 0800 22 44 88(textphone 18001 0800 22 44 88)

The helpline is open Monday-Friday, from 8.00am to 10.00pm and Saturday and Sunday, from 9.00am to 5.00pm.

DRS leaflets

NHS Health Scotland have produced leaflets explaining diabetic retinopathy screening in Scotland, why it's offered and what happens next if the test finds changes in your eyes that need investigating.

Audio leaflet