London: Young children with narrow retinal artery diameters are more likely to develop higher blood pressure while children with higher blood pressure levels were more likely to develop retinal microvascular impairment during early childhood, claim researchers in a new study.
High blood pressure, the main risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD), can manifest as early as childhood, and the prevalence of high blood pressure among children continues to rise.
In previous studies, analysis of blood vessels in the retina has shown promise as a predictor of CVD risk among adults.
"Primary prevention strategies are needed to focus on screening retinal microvascular health and blood pressure in young children in order to identify those at increased risk of developing hypertension," said study lead author Henner Hanssen from the University of Basel in Switzerland.
"The earlier we can provide treatment and implement lifestyle changes to reduce hypertension, the greater the benefit for these children," Hanssen added.
For the current findings, published in the Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers sought to predict the development of high blood pressure in children over four years based on retinal blood vessel measurements.
Researchers screened 262 children ages six to eight from 26 schools in Basel, Switzerland, in 2014, for baseline blood pressure and retinal arterial measurements. Both measures were taken again in 2018.
Blood pressure measurements at both baseline and follow-up were performed in a sitting position after a minimum of five minutes of rest and were categorised based on the American Academy of Pediatrics' blood pressure guidelines.
Results from the analysis indicate that children with narrower retinal vessel diameters at baseline developed higher systolic blood pressure at follow-up.
The findings showed that children with higher blood pressure levels at baseline developed significantly narrower arteriolar diameters at follow-up, depending on weight and cardiorespiratory fitness.
"Early childhood assessments of retinal microvascular health and blood pressure monitoring can improve cardiovascular risk classification," said Hanssen.
Researchers noted limitations of their study include that they could not confirm blood pressure measurements over a single 24-hour period, so they would not account for "white coat" hypertension, a condition where patients have high blood pressure readings when measured in a medical setting.