Retinal arteriolar tortuosity and fractal dimension are associated with long-term cardiovascular outcomes in people with type 2 diabetes

Emmanuel Sandoval Garcia, Stela McLachlan, Anna H. Price, Tom MacGillivray, Mark W. J. Strachan, James F Wilson, Jacqueline F. Price

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Aims/hypothesis: To determine whether quantitative retinal traits in people with type 2 diabetes are independently associated with incident major cardiovascular events including coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke.

Methods: A total of 1066 men and women with type 2 diabetes, aged 65-74 years, were followed-up over eight years in the population-based Edinburgh Type 2 Diabetes Study (ET2DS). Using retinal photographs taken at baseline and specialist software, a number of quantitative retinal traits were measured, including arteriolar and venular widths and tortuosity as well as fractal dimension (a measure of the branching pattern complexity of the retinal vasculature network). Incident CHD events occurring during follow-up included fatal and non-fatal myocardial infarction, first episodes of angina and coronary interventions for CHD. Incident cerebrovascular events included fatal and non-fatal stroke or transient ischaemic attack. Cox proportional hazard regression analyses were performed to identify the association of the retinal traits with cardiovascular events in the population with retinal data available (n=1028).

Results: A total of 200 participants had an incident cardiovascular event (139 CHD and 61 cerebrovascular events). Following adjustment for age and sex, arteriolar tortuosity and fractal dimension were associated with cerebrovascular events (HR 1.27, 95% CI 1.02-1.58 and HR 0.74, 95% CI 0.57-0.95, respectively), including with stroke alone (HR 1.30, 95% CI 1.01-1.66 and HR 0.73 95% CI 0.56-0.97, respectively). These associations persisted after further adjustment for established cardiovascular risk factors (HR 1.26, 95% CI 1.01-1.58 and HR 0.73 95% CI 0.56-0.94, respectively). Associations generally reduced in strength after a final adjustment for the presence of diabetic retinopathy, but the association of fractal dimension with incident cerebrovascular events and stroke retained statistical significance (HR 0.73, 95% CI 0.57-0.95 and HR 0.72 95% CI 0.54-0.97, respectively). Associations of retinal traits with CHD were generally weak and showed no evidence of statistical significance.

Conclusions/interpretation: Arteriolar tortuosity and fractal dimension were associated with incident cerebrovascular events, independent of a wide range of traditional cardiovascular risk factors including diabetic retinopathy. These findings suggest potential for measurements of early retinal vasculature change to aid in the identification of people with type 2 diabetes who are at increased risk from stroke.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2215-2227
Early online date23 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2021


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