Retinal vessel diameters and risk of hypertension: the Multiethnic Study of Atherosclerosis

J Hypertens. 2009 Dec;27(12):2386-93. doi: 10.1097/HJH.0b013e3283310f7e.


Objective: To describe the prospective relationship of retinal vessel diameters with risk of hypertension in a multiethnic population-based cohort.

Methods: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis is a population-based study of subclinical cardiovascular disease among white, African-American, Hispanic, and Chinese American adults aged 45-84 years. Retinal vessel diameters were measured using a standardized imaging software at the second examination (considered baseline in this analysis) and summarized as the central retinal artery/vein equivalent. Presence of retinopathy and retinal focal arteriolar narrowing and arteriovenous nicking was assessed by trained graders. Incidence of hypertension was defined among participants at risk as systolic blood pressure at least 140 mmHg, diastolic blood pressure at least 90 mmHg, or use of an antihypertensive medication.

Results: Of the initial 6237 participants at baseline, 2583 were at risk of hypertension. After 3.2 +/- 0.5 years of follow-up, 448 (17.3%) participants developed hypertension. After adjusting for age, sex, race/ethnicity, the average of mean arterial blood pressure in the first and second examination, and other vascular risk factors, persons with narrower retinal arteriolar diameter and wider venular diameter at baseline were more likely to develop hypertension [odds ratio per SD decrease in central retinal artery equivalent 1.20, 95% confidence intervals 1.02, 1.42; and odds ratio per SD increase in central retinal vein equivalent 1.18, 95% confidence interval 1.02, 1.37]. Persons with focal arteriolar narrowing were also more likely to develop hypertension (odds ratio 1.80, 95% confidence interval 1.09, 2.97).

Conclusion: Findings from this multiethnic population confirm that narrower retinal arteriolar diameter and wider venular diameter are associated with the development of hypertension independent of traditional risk factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Atherosclerosis / ethnology
  • Atherosclerosis / etiology
  • Atherosclerosis / pathology*
  • Capillaries / pathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / diagnosis*
  • Hypertension / ethnology
  • Hypertension / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Microcirculation / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Retinal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Retinal Diseases / ethnology
  • Retinal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Retinal Vessels / pathology*
  • Risk Assessment
  • United States / ethnology
  • Vasoconstriction / physiology