The clinical assessment of systemic hypertension in optometric practice

  • Peter G. Hurcomb

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis sets out to examine in detail the condition of systemic hypertension (high Blood Pressure) in relation to optometric practice in the United Kingdom. Systemic hypertension, which is asymptomatic in the early stages, is diagnosed from the Blood Pressure (BP) measurement recorded by a sphygmomanometer and/or from the complications that have developed in target organs.
Optometric practice based surveys revealed that diagnosed systemic hypertension was the most prevalent cardiovascular medical condition (20.5%). Measurement of BP of patients in this sample revealed that if an optometrist included sphygmomanometry into the sight examination then at least one patient each day would be referred for suspect systemic hypertension.
Optometric opinion felt that the measurement of BP in optometric practice would advance the profession, being appreciated by both patients and General Practitioners (GPs), but was felt to be an unnecessary routine procedure. The present sight examination for the systemic hypertensive is similar to that of the normotensive patient, but may involve an altered fundus examination and a visual field test. The GPs were in favour of optometric BP measurement and a future role in the share care management of the systemic hypertensive.
The application of a new pictorial grading scale for the grading of vascular changes associated with pre-malignant systemic hypertension was found to be both accurate and reliable. Clinical trial of the grading scale in optometric practice found positive correlations between BP and increasing severity of the retinal vascular features.
The subtle pre-malignant vascular changes require reliable accurate detection and analysis to assist in the management of the systemic hypertensive patient. Vessel width was shown to decrease with increasing age. Image analysis of the A/V ratio, arteriolar tortuosity and focal calibre changes revealed a positive correlation to the patient's BP (p<0.001). The retinal vasculature is relatively stable longitudinally with only minor changes in response to early disease states. Age and elevated BP increased a patient's risk of developing systemic medical conditions over a two-year period.
The application of the pictorial grading scale to optometric practice and training the optometrist in the use of sphygmomanometry would improve the management of the systemic hypertensive patient in optometric practice. Future advances in image analysis hold substantial benefits for the detection and monitoring of subtle vascular changes associated with systemic hypertension.
Date of AwardJul 2003
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJames Wolffsohn (Supervisor)


  • high blood pressure
  • sphygomanometry
  • pictorial grading scale
  • image analysis

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