Prevalence of Retinal Emboli and Acute Retinal Artery Occlusion in Acute Ischemic Stroke

Robert A. Egan, Helmi L. Lutsep

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Objective: In population-based studies asymptomatic retinal emboli occur in .32%-2.9% of people. Retinal artery occlusion (RAO) may occur concurrently with cerebral stroke but the frequency is unknown. No study has examined how commonly retinal emboli occur in the acute stroke population. We aimed to assess the prevalence of retinal emboli and RAO at the time of carotid territory ischemic stroke. Methods: Patients were enrolled prospectively after onset of symptoms consistent with the diagnosis of carotid territory ischemic stroke. Every participant underwent pharmacologic dilation of both pupils and bedside funduscopic examination. Emboli were classified as cholesterol, calcific, platelet/fibrin, or other and categorized by the side of occurrence. Stroke was classified as atheroembolic, cardioembolic, embolic stroke of undetermined source, lacunar, or other. Acute RAO was diagnosed by direct visualization of ischemic retinal whitening. Results: Sixty-five patients were enrolled with a mean age of 59.2 years; 23 were female (35.4%). Eleven of 65 subjects (16.9%) had retinal emboli visible on funduscopy; all were cholesterol emboli except a single platelet/fibrin embolus in a patient with atheroembolic source. Six patients (9%) had acute RAO and no RAO was seen in the lacunar or undetermined source subgroups. Conclusions: Retinal emboli occurred more than 10 times more frequently in the acute stroke patient than in large population-based studies. RAOs also occurred concurrently with ischemic stroke. Although emboli were seen in patients with atheroembolic and cardioembolic sources, all patients with carotid disease had emboli in the ipsilateral eye. Future studies are required to determine if the presence of retinal emboli or RAO may help elucidate an etiology in patients suffering from embolic stroke of undetermined source.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104446
JournalJournal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2020


  • Hollenhorst plaque
  • Retinal artery occlusion
  • ischemic stroke
  • retinal emboli

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Rehabilitation
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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