Can I Have Cataract Surgery If I Have Diabetes?

Reviewed by: Jason Jacobs, M.D. and Leslie Doctor, M.D.

Question: I am 68 years old and have been a diabetic for over 20 years. During that time I have tried to stay healthy but my vision has varied. I needed laser treatment 5 years ago and the vision was pretty good until about 6 months ago. My retina doctor told me I now have Cataracts in both eyes and it is decreasing my vision-especially at night. Can I have Cataract Surgery since I already had the laser treatment for my diabetic retinopathy? Are there any risks or more complications beyond what my friends who have had Cataract Surgery experienced?

Answer: The answer is that you absolutely can have Cataract Surgery if you have diabetic retinopathy, even after laser treatment. The fact that your retinal specialist is in the loop is important. One of the retinal problems created by diabetic retinopathy is diabetic macular edema. As part of your examination and consultation, your Cataract Surgeon may wish to perform a test called ocular coherence tomography (OCT) in order to carefully observe and review the status of the macula, specifically to look for macular edema. It is possible that they will prescribe and ask you to use a type of eye drop called an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent) for some time before your Cataract Surgery and for as long as three months after your surgery. Also, in certain instances your eye surgeon may recommend that either he or she at the time of Cataract Surgery, or your retinal specialist after the surgery, place an injection of an anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (Anti-VEGF) agent such as Avastin™ in order to retard the possible growth of new blood vessels in the retina. These are several steps that a Cataract Surgeon may take to minimize the risks and complications of Cataract Surgery if you have diabetic retinopathy.

Regarding the actual cataract surgery operation procedure, if your Cataract Surgeon is using the most modern small incision phacoemulsification technique they are not likely to make any modifications in their procedure.

So, the simple answer to the question “Can I have Cataract Surgery if I have diabetic retinopathy?” is yes. As always, choose a reputable Cataract Surgeon with experience in performing Cataract Surgery for diabetics and who takes the time necessary to evaluate you properly and guide you through the right decisions.

The information that has been provided here is intended to give patients a basic understanding of Cataract Surgery, Diabetes and Diabetic Retinopathy. It is possible that your individual experience might be different. None of the information provided here is meant to be a substitute for or replace your eye doctor's consultation nor does it replace the need for you to consult with your Cataract Surgeon about specific details of Cataract Surgery and Intraocular Lens (IOL) Implantation.

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