Diabetic eye screening in pregnancy
Diabetic eye screening is a test to check for any eye problems caused by diabetes. The test can find these problems before they affect your sight.
Diabetic retinopathy is a condition when diabetes affects the small blood vessels at the back of the eye (retina). There is a higher chance of getting diabetic retinopathy if you are pregnant.
Everyone with diabetes aged 12 or over is offered eye screening each year. If you are pregnant and have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, your eyes need to be tested more often. This is because the chance of serious eye problems is greater.
This information is about the south east London diabetic eye screening programme. It explains:
- who needs diabetic eye screening in pregnancy
- how often you need eye screening tests in pregnancy
- what happens during diabetic eye screening
- possible diabetic eye screening results
There is a national diabetic eye screening programme. If you live in south east London, the south east London diabetic eye screening programme offers this service.
We strongly recommend the extra eye screening tests if you already had type 1 or type 2 diabetes before getting pregnant. Eye screening is a part of managing your diabetes and diabetic retinopathy is treatable, especially if we can find it early.
Apart from type 1 and type 2 diabetes, there is a 3rd type of diabetes called gestational diabetes. This happens during pregnancy and usually goes away after your baby is born.
You are not offered eye screening if you get gestational diabetes. Generally, only people who had type 1 or type 2 diabetes before they became pregnant need eye screening.
In some cases, your doctor might suspect that you have type 2 diabetes that has been found during pregnancy rather than gestational diabetes. They then refer you to us for eye screening.
If you are told that you do not have diabetes after you are pregnant, please contact us to let us know. You then do not need to have any more eye tests with us.
After your baby is born, you need to continue coming for your routine eye screening every year. Only people who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes (high blood sugar during pregnancy) do not need to come for this screening.
Your 1st extra eye screening test should take place before you are 13 weeks pregnant, unless you had your routine yearly screening very recently.
If there are any signs of early diabetic retinopathy at your 1st test, we will offer you another test. You have the next test when you are between 16 and 20 weeks pregnant.
Everyone should have an eye screening test again when they are 28 weeks pregnant. If any diabetic retinopathy has remained stable by this stage, you will return to having your eyes checked every year. This is the case for most people.
Diabetic eye screening during pregnancy is the same as routine eye screening when you have diabetes.
- We take your details, ask you to read some letters on a chart and record how well you can see.
- We put drops in your eyes to make the pupils (openings in the centres) bigger. We can then see the backs of your eyes (retinas) more clearly.
- We take digital photos of your retinas. If the pictures are not clear enough, we will refer you to an eye specialist for a different test.
Safety of the test
Having the digital photos taken of your eyes is painless. The camera does not come into contact with your eyes.
The eye drops are commonly used in pregnancy across the national screening programme. They may sting for a few seconds and make your sight blurred for 2 to 6 hours after the test. There are things that you can do to stay safe and comfortable during this time.
- take all the glasses and contact lens that you wear with you to your diabetic eye screening appointment
- take sunglasses with you to wear home, as everything may look bright after the screening test
- arrange to use public transport or get a lift for the journey home
do not drive after the screening test because the eye drops can make your sight blurry for a few hours
Very rarely, the drops can cause a sudden, dramatic rise in pressure within the eye. At the end of your screening appointment, we give you an information sheet about this called Diabetic eye screening drops.
Return immediately to the eye unit or go to A&E if you:
- have severe pain or discomfort in your eyes
- have redness in the white part of your eyes
- have constantly blurred sight, sometimes with rainbow rings (halos) around lights
- feel sick (nausea)
- are being sick (vomiting)
Within 6 weeks of your screening appointment, we send a letter to you, your GP and the antenatal service caring for you. This letter explains the results.
The possible results of the eye screening test are:
- no retinopathy (this means that we did not find any changes to your eyes)
- early signs of retinopathy (this means that diabetes has caused some small changes to your eyes)
- more serious retinopathy that needs to be referred to a specialist (this means that diabetes has caused some damage that could affect your sight)
If your test shows early signs of retinopathy, your health professional will give you advice about looking after your diabetes during pregnancy. We invite you for an extra eye screening test while you are pregnant.
More serious retinopathy is called referable retinopathy. If the test shows that you have this, we will refer you for an appointment with an eye specialist.
Smoking increases your chance of getting diabetic retinopathy. If you smoke, we recommend that you ask for help to stop or at least cut down. Please speak to your nurse or call our stop smoking service on 020 7188 0995. You can also call the free National Smokefree Helpline on 0300 123 1044 (England only).
If you live outside south east London
There is a local diabetic eye screening programme for each area in the UK. The south east London diabetic eye screening programme covers people who are registered with a GP in:
Several of our diabetic eye screening clinics are held at hospitals, where many people have their antenatal care. We are happy to see pregnant women who live outside south east London if this makes it easier for them to come to appointments. The midwife or doctor caring for you during pregnancy can refer you to us.
If you would rather continue to have your screening done locally, please tell your local programme that you are pregnant. They can then arrange to see you more often.
If we test your eyes while you are pregnant, we will let your local programme know the results. Afterwards, we send you back into their care.
Help to give up smoking
Hospital team: 020 7188 0995
National Smokefree Helpline: 0300 123 1044 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday, 11am to 4pm)
Pharmacy medicines helpline
If you have any questions or concerns about your medicines, please speak to the staff caring for you. You can also contact our pharmacy medicines helpline.
Phone: 020 7188 8748, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm
Email: [email protected]
Resource number: 4647/VER2
Last reviewed: October 2022
Next review due: October 2025
A list of sources is available on request.