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Cardiovascular risk factors as determinants of retinal and skin microvascular function.

Sörensen BM, Houben AJHM, Berendschot TTJM, Schouten JSAG, Kroon AA, van der Kallen CJH, Henry RMA, Koster A, Dagnelie PC, Schaper NC, Schram MT, Stehouwer CDA. 


Microvascular dysfunction is an important underlying mechanism of microvascular diseases. Determinants (age, sex, hypertension, dyslipidemia, hyperglycemia, obesity, and smoking) of macrovascular diseases affect large-artery endothelial function. These risk factors also associate with microvascular diseases. We hypothesized that they are also determinants of microvascular (endothelial) function.


In The Maastricht Study, a type 2 diabetes-enriched population-based cohort study (n = 1991, 51% men, aged 59.7±8.2 years), we determined microvascular function as flicker light-induced retinal arteriolar %-dilation and heat-induced skin %-hyperemia. Multiple linear regression analyses were used to assess the associations of cardiovascular risk factors (age, sex, waist circumference, total-to-high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol ratio, fasting plasma glucose (FPG), 24-h systolic blood pressure, and cigarette smoking) with retinal and skin microvascular function.


In multivariate analyses, age and FPG were inversely associated with retinal and skin microvascular function (regression coefficients per standard deviation (SD) were -0.11SD (95%CI: -0.15;-0.06) and -0.12SD (-0.17;-0.07) for retinal arteriolar %-dilation and -0.10SD (-0.16;-0.05) and -0.11SD (-0.17;-0.06) for skin %-hyperemia, respectively. Men and current smokers had -0.43SD (-0.58;-0.27) and -0.32SD (-0.49;-0.15) lower skin %-hyperemia, respectively. 24-h systolic blood pressure, waist circumference, and total-to-HDL cholesterol ratio were not statistically significantly associated with these microvascular functions.


Associations between cardiovascular risk factors and retinal and skin microvascular function show a pattern that is partly similar to the associations between cardiovascular risk factors and macrovascular function. Impairment of microvascular function may constitute a pathway through which an adverse cardiovascular risk factor pattern may increase risk of diseases that are partly or wholly of microvascular origin.

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