Background: Inflammation of the retinal vasculature without an infectious etiology, systemic disease association, or concomitant ocular disease is termed primary retinal vasculitis, and can result in severe and permanent vision loss. Patients with primary retinal vasculitis usually are subjected to an extensive but unrewarding diagnostic evaluation. This study was undertaken to determine the value of such a diagnostic workup, and to determine whether systemic diseases develop in these patients during the course of their illness.
Methods: The clinical records of 25 patients seen between 1984 and 1994 with the referring diagnosis of primary retinal vasculitis were reviewed retrospectively. Recorded data included patient age, sex, race, medical history, medications, visual acuity, extent of retinal disease, and the results of their diagnostic evaluations.
Results: On presentation, none of the patients had an underlying systemic disease attributable as the cause of their retinal vasculitis. Review of systems was suggestive of an underlying systemic disease in 1 of 25 patients. Diagnostic evaluation in this patient showed a positive antinuclear antibody value and a double-stranded DNA, suggestive of systemic lupus erythematosus. Subsequently, systemic lupus erythematosus was diagnosed based on the development of other diagnostic criteria. The review of systems was not suggestive of an underlying systemic disease in 24 of 25 patients. False-positive diagnostic test results were obtained in 5 (20.8%) of these 24 patients. No underlying systemic disease associated with the patients' retinal vasculitis subsequently developed in any of these five patients (mean follow-up, 4 years).
Conclusion: Few diagnostic tests should be ordered in patients with retinal vasculitis in the absence of a medical history suggestive of underlying systemic disease.