Br J Ophthalmol 96:560-563 doi:10.1136/bjophthalmol-2011-300640
  • Clinical science
  • Original article

Retinal oxygen saturation is altered in diabetic retinopathy

  1. Einar Stefánsson1
  1. 1Department of Ophthalmology, University of Iceland/Landspítali—University Hospital, Reykjavik, Iceland
  2. 2Oxymap ehf., Reykjavik, Iceland
  1. Correspondence to Professor Einar Stefánsson, Landspítali—University Hospital, Dept. Ophthalmology, Eiríksgata 37, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland; einarste{at}
  1. Contributors Both authors contributed substantially to the conception and design of the study as well as interpretation of the data (analysis made by the first author). Article was drafted by the first author but critically revised by both authors. Both authors approved the final version.

  • Accepted 23 October 2011
  • Published Online First 11 November 2011


Aim Retinal oxygen metabolism is thought to be affected in diabetic retinopathy. The aim of this study was to test whether retinal vessel oxygen saturation is different in patients with diabetic retinopathy from that in healthy controls.

Methods The retinal oximeter is based on a fundus camera. It estimates retinal vessel oxygen saturation from light absorbance at 586 nm and 605 nm. Retinal vessel oxygen saturation was measured in one major temporal retinal arteriole and venule in healthy volunteers and in patients with diabetic retinopathy.

Results Oxygen saturation in the retinal arterioles of healthy volunteers was 93±4% and 58±6% in venules (mean±SD, n=31). The corresponding values for all diabetic patients (n=20) were 101±5% and 68±7%. The difference between healthy volunteers and diabetic patients was statistically significant (p<0.001 for arterioles and venules). Three subgroups of diabetic patients (background retinopathy, macular oedema and pre-proliferative/proliferative retinopathy) all had higher saturation values than the healthy volunteers (p<0.05 for arterioles and venules).

Conclusion Retinal vessel oxygen saturation is higher in patients with diabetic retinopathy than in healthy controls. Possible explanations include shunting of blood through preferential channels, bypassing non-perfused capillaries in the capillary network. Parts of the retinal tissue may be hypoxic while blood in larger vessels has high oxygen saturation.


  • Funding Icelandic Centre for Research (Rannís), Eimskip University Fund, Univ. of Iceland Research Fund and Landspítali-University Hospital Research Fund.

  • Competing interests Both authors are involved in the development of the instrument (oximeter) used and have a financial interest in the company Oxymap ehf., which makes this instrument. The first author is an employee of the University of Iceland but Oxymap ehf. partly supports the position.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by National Bioethics Committee of Iceland and the Icelandic Data Protection Authority.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Additional data are available upon request from the corresponding author: Einar Stefánsson, (einarste{at}