Retinal microvascular changes in low-birth-weight babies have a link to future health
Background: In utero insults that result in low-birth-weight (LBW) infants are now recognized risk factors for the development of vascular-related diseases in adulthood. Microcirculatory pathologies are believed to form a mechanistic link between fetal insult and the manifestation of illness in adulthood. Objectives: The challenge has been to investigate microcirculatory changes in vivo. The objective of this review is to determine whether LBW infants and individuals undergo abnormal microvascular changes and, if so, whether these changes can be objectively identified and measured by investigating retinal vessels. Methods: An online publication search was carried out using the following keywords to identify and review relevant articles: retinal microvasculature, retinal vessels, small for gestation age, growth restriction, and intrauterine growth restriction. Articles published from 1980 to 2011 were considered. Conclusions: The ability of retinal imaging technology to assess and measure retinal microvasculature makes it a valuable assessment tool. The current tool is, however, unsuitable for non-invasive assessment in infants and young children. Once this hurdle has been overcome, a longitudinal study of LBW individuals from infancy to adulthood, with regular retinal microvascular assessments, would help prove the mechanistic link between LBW and cardiovascular disease in adulthood.