The microvasculature plays an important role in regulating cardiovascular changes in pregnancy, but changes in microvasculature have been difficult to document in vivo. This study objectively quantifies changes in the maternal retinal arteriolar and venular caliber over the course of healthy pregnancy. Healthy pregnant women (n=53) were recruited from Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, Australia. Retinal images and mean arterial blood pressures (MAP) were collected at 13, 19, 29, and 38 weeks of gestation and at 6-month postpartum. Retinal vessels were analyzed and summarized as the central retinal arteriolar equivalent and central retinal venular equivalent. Central retinal arteriolar equivalent and central retinal venular equivalent were corrected for MAP. Paired t tests were performed comparing consecutive time points, with a significance level of P<0.01. There was a decrease in MAP between 13- and 19-week gestation (P=0.001) followed by a return to baseline from 19 weeks to delivery. This was correlated by an increase in vessel caliber between 13- and 19-week gestation (central retinal arteriolar equivalent: P<0.001, central retinal venular equivalent: P=0.007) and a return to baseline from 19 weeks to delivery. There were no differences in the central retinal arteriolar equivalent or central retinal venular equivalent (both uncorrected and corrected for MAP) between nulliparous and parous women. The pattern of dilatation and constriction in the microvasculature mirrored the changes in MAP throughout pregnancy, reflecting changes in peripheral resistance. This study provides insights into physiological changes in the microvasculature throughout a healthy pregnancy. These results can be used as a baseline with which to compare the changes observed in pathological conditions of pregnancy.
- blood pressure