Analysis of retinal blood vessel diameters in patients with COPD undergoing a pulmonary rehabilitation program

A.W. Vaes*, M.A. Spruit, N. Goswami, J. Theunis, F.M.E. Franssen, P. De Boever

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Regular exercise positively affects cardiovascular physiology, translating into the adequate capacity of microvascular blood vessels to dilate in response to acute bouts of exercise. However, this remains unstudied in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), who often suffer from cardiovascular comorbidity. Therefore, we studied acute changes in retinal blood vessel diameters in response to high-intensity exercise in patients with COPD. The effect of an exercise-based 8-week pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) program was evaluated. We consider changes in these retinal metrics as an indicator of microvascular reactivity. Methods: Demographics and clinical characteristics of 41 patients were collected at the start and end of the PR program. Patients performed a high-intensity exercise test on a cycle ergometer at the start and end of the PR program, during which we collected retinal images. Fundus images were taken immediately before and 0, 5, 10, 15, and 30 min after the ergometer test. Widths of retinal blood vessels, represented as Central Retinal Arteriolar and Venular Equivalents (CRAE and CRVE), were calculated. Results: Thirty patients with COPD completed the study protocol (57% males; mean age: 64 +/- 7 years; mean FEV1: 45 +/- 17%pred). We did not observe a change in retinal vessel widths following the ergometer test at the start of the PR program. This null result remained at the end of the 8-week PR program. Our observations did not alter when considering responders and non-responders to PR. Conclusion: Retinal blood vessel diameters of patients with COPD did not change following an exercise test on an ergometer. The exercise-based PR program of eight weeks did not counteract the blunted retinal microvascular response.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104238
Number of pages5
JournalMicrovascular Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Microvasculature
  • Microvascular reactivity
  • Retinal imaging
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation
  • RISK


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