Objective: To determine whether asymptomatic retinal cholesterol embolism is a risk factor for vascular events.
Design: Cohort study with retrospectively selected controls.
Setting: A Veterans Affairs medical center.
Patients: 70 consecutive patients with asymptomatic retinal cholesterol emboli on dilated ocular examination in an eye clinic and 70 controls without retinal emboli. Controls were matched to patients for sex; age; prevalence of hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and ischemic heart disease; serum cholesterol level; and smoking history.
Measurements: Stroke, myocardial infarction, and death.
Results: During a mean follow-up of 3.4 years, stroke occurred at an annual rate of 8.5% among patients and 0.8% among controls (adjusted relative risk, 9.9; 95% CI, 2.3 to 43.1; P = 0.002). Nineteen strokes occurred, 17 in patients and 2 in controls; all were nonfatal cerebral infarctions. Twelve of the 17 that occurred in patients were in a carotid artery territory ipsilateral to the qualifying retinal cholesterol embolus and 5 were in another vascular territory. Ocular infarction or hemorrhagic stroke did not occur. Nonfatal myocardial infarction or vascular death occurred at an annual rate of 7.7% among patients and 4.9% among controls (adjusted relative risk, 1.4; 95% CI, 0.7 to 2.9; P = 0.39).
Conclusion: Asymptomatic retinal cholesterol embolism is an important risk factor for cerebral infarction independent of commonly recognized vascular risk factors.