Microvascular dysfunction has been suggested to be a major pathogenic factor for the development of hypertension. We examined the association between retinal vascular caliber, a marker of systemic microvascular dysfunction, and incident hypertension on a meta-analysis of individual participant data.
We performed a systematic review with relevant studies identified through a search of electronic databases, a review of reference lists, and correspondence with experts. Studies were included if participants were selected from a general population, retinal vascular caliber was measured from photographs using computer-assisted methods at baseline, and individuals were followed up to ascertain the incidence of hypertension. Prespecified individual recorded data from six population-based prospective cohort studies were included. Discrete time proportional odds models were constructed for each study with adjustment for hypertension risk factors. Log odds ratios (ORs) per 20-μm difference were pooled using random-effects meta-analysis.
Among 10 229 participants without prevalent hypertension, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease, 2599 developed new-onset hypertension during median follow-up periods ranging from 2.9 to 10 years. Both narrower retinal arterioles [pooled multivariate-adjusted OR per 20-μm difference 1.29, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.20–1.39] and wider venules (OR per 20-μm difference 1.14, 95% CI 1.06–1.23) were associated with an increased risk of hypertension. Each 20 μm narrower arterioles at baseline were associated with a 1.12 mmHg (95% CI 0.25–1.99) greater increase in SBP over 5 years.
Retinal arteriolar narrowing and venular widening were independently associated with an increased risk of hypertension. These findings underscore the importance of microvascular remodeling in the pathogenesis of hypertension.