The relation of systemic hypertension to changes in the retinal vasculature: the Beaver Dam Eye Study

Trans Am Ophthalmol Soc. 1997;95:329-48; discussion 348-50.


Background purpose: The objective was to investigate the relationship of systemic hypertension to the incidence of various retinal vascular lesions in the population-based Beaver Dam Eye Study.

Methods: Subjects aged 43 through 86 years who lived in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin between 1987 and 1988 were examined between 1988 and 1990 and 5 years later, 1993-1995. Blood pressure was measured using standardized protocols. Stereoscopic color fundus photographs were graded in a masked fashion using standardized protocols to determine the presence of retinopathy (blot hemorrhages, microaneurysms, hard and soft exudates, intraretinal microvascular abnormalities, and venous beading), retinal arteriolar narrowing, and arterio-venous nicking. People with diabetes or retinal vascular occlusions were excluded from the analyses.

Results: Among those examined, 2,151 (69.1%) were normotensive and 963 (30.9%) were hypertensive at baseline. Over the five-year period, retinopathy developed in 175 (6.0%), arteriolar narrowing in 282 (9.9%) and arterio-venous nicking in 201 (6.5%) nondiabetic subjects. After adjusting for age, hypertension was associated with the incidence of retinopathy (in men: relative risk [RR] 2.31, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.54 to 3.48; in women: RR 1.61, 95% CI 1.07 to 2.43) and with arteriolar narrowing (in men: RR 1.82, 95% CI 1.25 to 2.66; in women: RR 1.36, 95% CI 1.05 to 1.77), but not with arterio-venous nicking (in men: RR 1.01, 95% CI 0.69 to 1.48; in women: RR 1.37, 95% CI 0.95 to 1.97). The five-year incidence of retinopathy and of arteriolar narrowing was higher 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 show a relation of hypertension to an increased incidence of retinopathy and arteriolar narrowing. Furthermore, these data suggest that pharmacologic control of blood pressure is related to a lower incidence of these anatomic retinal lesions relative to uncontrolled blood pressure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Blood Pressure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / complications*
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retinal Artery / pathology*
  • Retinal Artery Occlusion / epidemiology*
  • Retinal Artery Occlusion / pathology
  • Retinal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Retinal Vessels / pathology*
  • Wisconsin / epidemiology