Background: Retinal vessel calibre and vascular dilation/constriction in response to flicker light provocation may provide a measure distinguishing patients suffering from diabetes mellitus and/or cardiovascular disease.
Methods: One hundred and sixteen age and sex matched patients with diabetes mellitus (DM), cardiovascular disease (CVD) and both DM and CVD (DM + CVD) underwent systemic and intraocular pressure measurements. Retinal vessel calibres were assessed using a validated computer-based program to compute central retinal artery and vein equivalents (CRVE) from monochromatic retinal images. Vessel dilation and constriction responses to flicker light provocation were assessed by continuous retinal vessel diameter recordings. Plasma endothelial markers von Willebrand factor (vWf) and soluble E selectin (sEsel) were measured by ELISA.
Results: Retinal vessel calibres were comparable across groups but CRVE correlated significantly with disease duration in DM patients (r = 0.57, p < 0.001). Patients suffering DM only exhibited reduced arterial vasomotion at rest and reduced arterial constriction following flicker light induced vessel dilation compared to patients with CVD and those suffering both CVD + DM (p = 0.030). Patients suffering from CVD + DM exhibited significant differences between each flicker cycle in regards to arterial maximum constriction (p = 0.006) and time needed to reach arterial maximum dilation (p = 0.004), whereas the other two groups did not show such inconsistencies between individual flicker cycles. vWf was raised in CVD + DM compared to the other two groups (p ≤ 0.02), whilst sEsel was raised in CVD + DM compared to DM alone (p = 0.044).
Conclusions: Dynamic retinal vascular calibres as obtained by continuous diameter measurements using flicker light provocation can reveal subtle differences between groups suffering from CVD with and without DM. This difference in reaction pattern and lack of arterial constriction in DM may provide a suitable marker to monitor progression.
Keywords: Blood glucose; Cardiovascular disease; Diabetes mellitus; Retinal vessel diameter; Retinal vessel reactivity.