Computerized measurement of retinal blood vessel calibre: description, validation and use to determine the influence of ageing and hypertension

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Abstract

Objective

To validate a computer-based method for measuring the calibre of retinal blood vessels, and use it to determine the effects of ageing and arterial hypertension on the calibres of these vessels and on their ratio.

Methods

Digital eye fundus images covering a 50° field and centred on the optic disc were obtained using a 540 nm filter. The boundaries of blood vessels crossing a series of circles concentric with the optic disc were located by an image analysis program; the calibres of vessels crossing the circles perpendicularly were determined automatically, the average arteriole and average vein calibres were calculated, and the arteriovenous ratio (AVR) was calculated as the ratio of these averages. The within-operator, between-operator and within-eye reliability of this method was investigated using images of 30 or 40 eyes; the effects of ageing on average vessel calibres and AVR using both eyes of each of 120 normotensive volunteers aged 10–69 years (60 males, 60 females); and the effects of arterial hypertension using a group of 54 hypertensive patients aged 50.9 ± 13.9 years.

Results

Within-operator, between-operator and within-eye correlation coefficients for AVR were all better than 0.95, and the corresponding coefficients of variation were all better than 3%. The results of Bland Altman approach show a very good agreement. There were no significant differences between right and left eyes or between the sexes in either the normotensive or the hypertensive group. In the normotensive group, vein calibre was almost constant (111 ± 6 μm), but arteriole calibre and AVR fell significantly from 96 ± 6 μm and 0.870 ± 0.046, respectively, in the second decade of life to 85 ± 4 μm and 0.761 ± 0.044 in the seventh decade. Arterial hypertension was not associated with changes in vein calibre, but was associated with decreases in arteriole calibre (from 91 ± 7 μm among normotensive individuals to 84 ± 2 μm) and AVR (from 0.816 ± 0.056 to 0.755 ± 0.027). Age significantly modulated the AVR-reducing influence of hypertension (P = 0.003).

Conclusion

The proposed method of measuring retinal blood vessel calibres is reliable and precise (especially for the AVR). In this study, its results confirmed that increasing age and arterial hypertension are both associated with reductions in retinal arteriole calibre and AVR.

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