Vasospasm, its role in the pathogenesis of diseases with particular reference to the eye

Prog Retin Eye Res. 2001 May;20(3):319-49. doi: 10.1016/s1350-9462(00)00028-8.


Vasospasm can have many different causes and can occur in a variety of diseases, including infectious, autoimmune, and ophthalmic diseases, as well as in otherwise healthy subjects. We distinguish between the primary vasospastic syndrome and secondary vasospasm. The term "vasospastic syndrome" summarizes the symptoms of patients having such a diathesis as responding with spasm to stimuli like cold or emotional stress. Secondary vasospasm can occur in a number of autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus erythematosus, antiphospholipid syndrome, rheumatoid polyarthritis, giant cell arteritis, Behcet's disease, Buerger's disease and preeclampsia, and also in infectious diseases such as AIDS. Other potential causes for vasospasm are hemorrhages, homocysteinemia, head injury, acute intermittent porphyria, sickle cell disease, anorexia nervosa, Susac syndrome, mitochondriopathies, tumors, colitis ulcerosa, Crohn's disease, arteriosclerosis and drugs. Patients with primary vasospastic syndrome tend to suffer from cold hands, low blood pressure, and even migraine and silent myocardial ischemia. Valuable diagnostic tools for vasospastic diathesis are nailfold capillary microscopy and angiography, but probably the best indicator is an increased plasma level of endothelin-1. The eye is frequently involved in the vasospastic syndrome, and ocular manifestations of vasospasm include alteration of conjunctival vessels, corneal edema, retinal arterial and venous occlusions, choroidal ischemia, amaurosis fugax, AION, and glaucoma. Since the clinical impact of vascular dysregulation has only really been appreciated in the last few years, there has been little research in the according therapeutic field. The role of calcium channel blockers, magnesium, endothelin and glutamate antagonists, and gene therapy are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Constriction, Pathologic
  • Eye / blood supply*
  • Eye Diseases / diagnosis
  • Eye Diseases / etiology*
  • Eye Diseases / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / complications*
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / diagnosis
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / physiopathology