Objective: To investigate the relationship of various retinal lesions to systemic hypertension in the population-based Beaver Dam Eye Study.
Design: In this cross-sectional population-based study, blood pressure was measured using standardized protocols. Using standardized protocols, stereoscopic color fundus photographs were graded in a masked fashion to determine the presence of retinopathy (defined as retinal microaneurysms only, blot hemorrhages only, hemorrhages and/or microaneurysms, cotton-wool spots, hard exudates, intraretinal microvascular abnormalities, venous beading, and retinal new vessels), retinal arteriolar narrowing, and arteriovenous nicking.
Participants: Subjects aged 43 through 84 years who lived in Beaver Dam, Wis, between 1987 and 1988 were examined between 1988 and 1990. People with diabetes or retinal vascular occlusions were excluded.
Results: Retinopathy was present in 336 subjects (7.8%), arteriolar narrowing in 582 subjects (13.5%), and arteriovenous nicking in 95 subjects (2.2%) in the nondiabetic population. Hypertension was associated with increased frequency of retinopathy, arteriolar narrowing, and arteriovenous nicking. After adjusting for age, hypertension was associated with the presence of retinopathy (in men: relative risk [RR], 1.47; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.10 to 1.96; in women: RR, 1.69; 95% CI, 1.26 to 2.27), arteriolar narrowing (in men: RR, 1.34; 95% CI, 1.03 to 1.74; in women: RR, 1.37; 95% CI, 1.14 to 1.64), and arteriovenous nicking (in men: RR, 1.87; 95% CI, 0.99 to 3.54; in women: RR, 1.65; 95% CI, 1.00 to 2.73). Retinopathy, arteriolar narrowing, and arteriovenous nicking were more frequent in those subjects whose blood pressure was elevated despite use of antihypertensive medications compared with those subjects whose blood pressure was controlled with antihypertensive medications or those who were normotensive.
Conclusions: These data suggest that retinopathy and retinal arteriolar narrowing are common in people with hypertension. Further longitudinal study is necessary to evaluate the public health significance of these retinal lesions regarding possibly increased risk of renal and cardiovascular disease.