Retinopathy and central nervous system microcirculatory abnormalities in adult cerebral malaria and their prediction of outcome
Maude, Richard James
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Introduction Malaria retinopathy is a set of visible changes in the retina which are specific to falciparum malaria. Studies to date have been mostly limited to comatose African children. Retinal changes in adults with severe malaria and severely unwell patients without malaria have been less well studied and the specificity, pathogenesis, diagnostic and prognostic value of malarial retinopathy in adults are not known. Methods A series of observational studies of retinopathy in Bangladesh, India and Malaysia were done from 2008-2012. The aims were to describe the spectrum of retinal changes in falciparum and knowlesi malaria in adults, determine their specificity for severe falciparum malaria, quantify the impact of malaria retinopathy on visual function, understand its pathogenesis and assess the potential contribution of retinopathy to confirming diagnosis of malarial coma, predicting prognosis and understanding pathogenesis of cerebral malaria. Results 495 patients were enrolled and underwent retinal photography (305 with P. falciparum malaria (112 cerebral, 68 noncerebral severe, 125 uncomplicated), 44 P. knowlesi, 43 sepsis, 41 encephalopathy and 62 healthy). Retinal whitening and white-centred haemorrhages were common and specific to severe falciparum malaria. Retinopathy was most common and severe in cerebral (88%) and fatal (91%) falciparum malaria. Moderate-severe retinopathy was 95% specific for cerebral malaria in comatose patients, and its severity correlated with depth of coma. Vessel whitening was not seen and papilloedema was rare. In noncerebral severe falciparum malaria, retinopathy predicted increased likelihood of later development of coma and death. Retinal findings in Bangladeshi children were similar to those in adults. Optic nerve sheath diameter was mildly increased and brain swelling minimal on MRI. Severity of retinopathy correlated with plasma lactate, serum bicarbonate, sequestered parasite load and red cell stiffness suggesting a central role for microvascular obstruction in the pathogenesis. Severity of retinal whitening correlated with decreased visual acuity. Conclusions Retinal changes seen in severe P. falciparum malaria in Asian adults is similar, but not identical, to that seen in African children. They have potential to help with diagnosis and prognosis of Asian adults with severe falciparum malaria. Microvascular obstruction is prominent in the pathogenesis of retinopathy and coma in adults whereas raised intracranial pressure is not.