Conference Coverage

Retinal artery blockage doesn’t necessarily portend stroke



– Occlusion of the retinal artery has been thought to be a predictor of stroke, but an analysis of patients with diagnosed retinal artery occlusion at Cleveland Clinic has found that their risk of stroke is about the same as the general population, a researcher reported at the annual meeting of the Midwestern Vascular Surgery Society.

Dr. David Laczynski, Cleveland Clinic

Dr. David Laczynski

“Subsequent hemispheric stroke is rare with or following retinal artery occlusion (RAO),” said David Laczynski, MD, a vascular surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. “We do caution that large database studies may be overestimating the risk of stroke after RAO.” Studies have reported a stroke rate of up to 20% at 1 year, he said (Am J Ophthalmol. 2012;154:645-52).

ROA is a thromboembolic disorder of the vessels that provide blood to the back of the eye. American Academy of Ophthalmology preferred practice patterns recommend that patients with central RAO should be referred to the emergency department or a stroke center.

“As the vascular surgeon who’s on the receiving end of these consults, we have little data to provide to our patients as far as what their prognosis is,” Dr. Laczynski said. He noted the pathogenesis varies and that the diagnosis is difficult to arrive at. Fluorescein angiography imaging of the retina is essential to confirm diagnosis of ROA, but Dr. Laczynski said that many institutions do not have access to this level of imaging.

The study evaluated 221 patients whose RAO was confirmed with fluorescein angiography from 2004 to 2018 at the Cleveland Clinic Cole Eye Institute. The impetus of the study was to use the eye center to evaluate the institution’s experience with RAO, Dr. Laczynski said. “We were specifically concerned with looking at confirmed, symptomatic RAO with the risk of subsequent stroke,” he said. The study’s hypothesis was that RAO is not associated with an increased risk of stroke. The study population is the largest series in ROA ever reported, Dr. Laczynski said.

The average age of patients was 66 years. With a median follow-up of 2.2 years, the stroke rate was 2.3% (n = 5), with four of the strokes occurring at the time of RAO and one at 1.2 years later. Only one stroke patient had greater than 50% stenosis of the carotid artery. The rate of stroke, death, or MI was 10% (n = 22), Dr. Laczynski said. When concurrent ischemic events were excluded, the stroke rate was less than 1%.

“Sixty-three percent of patients (n = 141) had carotid imaging, but only 14.2% (n = 20) had more than 50% stenosis of the carotid artery,” Dr. Laczynski said. “Ten patients had carotid intervention.”

Among study limitations Dr. Laczynski pointed out were its single-center, retrospective nature and that not all patients had carotid artery imaging. “We cannot make any conclusion in regard to RAO and carotid artery disease,” Dr. Laczynski said.

This study was also published in the Journal of Vascular Surgery (2019 Sep;70[3]:e59-60).

Dr. Laczynski has no financial relationships to disclose.

SOURCE: Laczynski DJ et al. Midwestern Vascular 2019. J Vasc Surg. 2019 Sep;70[3]:e59-60.

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