Retinal arteriolar emboli: epidemiology and risk of stroke

Curr Opin Ophthalmol. 2002 Jun;13(3):142-6. doi: 10.1097/00055735-200206000-00002.


Retinal arteriolar emboli can be found in approximately 1% of adults more than 40 years of age. The frequency of retinal emboli increases with age and are more common in men than in women. Bilateral retinal emboli are rare, although multiple emboli in a single eye may be seen in up to one third of cases. Retinal emboli are associated with the presence of carotid artery plaque and stenosis, hypertension, cigarette smoking, and, possibly, diabetes. There are few prospective studies regarding the risk of stroke associated with retinal emboli. Available data suggest that retinal emboli in otherwise asymptomatic people are associated with a higher risk of stroke and stroke mortality, independent of conventional risk factors. Therefore, these patients are likely to benefit from a careful cardiovascular evaluation for risk stratification. Whether carotid ultrasound and other vascular imaging studies should be performed routinely for all patients with asymptomatic retinal emboli remains uncertain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Arterioles
  • Embolism / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Retinal Artery / pathology
  • Retinal Artery Occlusion / epidemiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Stroke / epidemiology*