Background Diabetic retinopathy is characterised by morphological lesions in the ocular fundus related to disturbances in retinal blood flow. The two vision threatening forms of retinopathy show specific patterns of distribution of retinal lesions with proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) developing secondary to ischaemia and hypoxia in the retinal periphery and diabetic maculopathy (DM) developing secondary to hyperperfusion and increased vascular permeability in the macular area. These differences in the distribution of retinal lesions might be reflected in regional differences in oxygen saturation in the larger retinal vessels.
Methods Dual-wavelength retinal oximetry was performed in 30 normal persons, 30 patients with DM and 30 patients with PDR, and the oxygen saturation was measured in peripapillary vessels supplying the four retinal quadrants and in branches from the upper temporal arcades supplying, respectively, the macular area and the retinal periphery.
Results The overall oxygen saturation was significantly higher in diabetic patients than in normal persons and the arteriovenous (AV) saturation difference significantly lower in the patients with DM. The regional variation in oxygen saturation was similar in the three studied groups with a decreasing saturation from the upper nasal through the lower nasal, lower temporal and the upper temporal peripapillary vessels, and with a significantly higher oxygen saturation in venules draining the macular area than in venules draining the retinal periphery.
Conclusions The regional differences in retinal lesions in vision threatening diabetic retinopathy are not reflected in regional differences in the oxygen saturation of larger retinal vessels. The development of vision threatening diabetic retinopathy depends on other factors, such as, for example, regional differences in the retinal microcirculation.