Retinal Microvasculature as a Model to Study the Manifestations of Hypertension
The retinal vasculature allows direct noninvasive visualization of the body’s mircrovasculature. Because the retina and other end organs (brain and kidney) share similar anatomical features and physiological properties, the retinal vessels offer a unique and easily accessible window to study the health and disease of the human microcirculation. Advanced retinal vascular imaging technologies have been developed to allow a more objective and precise assessment of retinal vascular changes. The changes in the retinal vasculature associated with hypertension can be broadly divided into 3 groups: (1) classic retinal vascular changes in response to blood pressure (referred to as hypertensive retinopathy signs), (2) changes in retinal vascular caliber, and (3) changes in more global geometrical patterns of the retina. In this review, we summarize the current understanding of the relationship between retinal vascular changes and blood pressure, the evidence for the retinal vasculature as a biological model to study the manifestation and early pathogenic correlates of hypertension, the latest advances in retinal vascular imaging technologies, and the future opportunities and challenges of retinal vascular imaging. We suggest that further development of retinal vascular analyses and standardized measurement protocols, evaluation of the clinical use of retinal vascular imaging in assessing cardiovascular risk prediction, and using retinal vascular imaging to test antihypertensive treatments will allow the translation of retinal vascular imaging as a tool to improve the diagnosis, prognosis, and management of hypertension in clinical practice.
- Received June 2, 2012.
- Revision received June 19, 2012.
- Accepted August 26, 2012.
- © 2012 American Heart Association, Inc.