PURPOSE: This study used functional slit lamp biomicroscopy (FSLB) to quantify conjunctival microvessel parameters in individuals with and without diabetes and examined whether these metrics could be used as surrogate markers of diabetes-related complications. METHODS: A cross-sectional study of 98 controls (C), 13 individuals with diabetes without complications (D-C), and 21 with diabetes and related complications (D+C), which included retinopathy, nephropathy, neuropathy, and cardiovascular-, peripheral vascular-, and cerebrovascular diseases, was performed. Bulbar conjunctival metrics (venule diameter, length, axial velocity [Va], cross-sectional velocity [Vs], flow [Q], and branching complexity) were measured using FSLB (digital camera mounted on traditional slit lamp). RESULTS: The mean age was 60 ± 11 years, and demographics were similar across the groups. Va and Vs significantly differed between groups. Va was 0.51 ± 0.17 mm/s, 0.62 ± 0.17 mm/s, and 0.45 ± 0.17 mm/s in the C, D-C, and D+C groups, respectively (P = 0.025). Similarly, Vs was 0.35 ± 01.12, 0.43 ± 0.13, and 0.32 ± 0.13 mm/s in the C, D-C, and D+C groups, respectively (P = 0.031). Black individuals had increased Va, Vs, and Q compared with White individuals (P < 0.05), but differences in velocities persisted after accounting for race. Among patients with diabetes, Va and Vs correlated with number of organ systems affected (Va: ρ = -0.42, P = 0.016; Vs: ρ = -0.41, P = 0.021). Va, Vs, and Q significantly (P ≤ 0.005) discriminated between diabetic patients with and without complications (area under the receiver operating curve for Va = 0.81, Vs = 0.79, Q = 0.81). CONCLUSIONS: Bulbar conjunctival blood flow metrics measured by FSLB differed between controls, diabetic patients without complications, and diabetic patients with complications. FSLB is a quick, easily accessible, and noninvasive alternative that might estimate the burden of vascular complications in diabetes.
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