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Changes in optic nerve head blood flow in children with cerebral malaria and acute papilloedema


Objective: To investigate capillary blood flow in the optic nerve head (ONH) of children with cerebral malaria.

Methods: Malawian children with cerebral malaria admitted to a paediatric research ward were examined by direct and indirect ophthalmoscopy. ONH blood flow was measured using laser Doppler flowmetry (LDF) in suitable patients. Mean blood volume and velocity were obtained from 30 to 60 s recordings from the temporal ONH and used to calculate blood flow. These were compared with admission variables, funduscopic findings and disease outcomes.

Results: 45 children with cerebral malaria had LDF recordings; 6 subsequently died and 5 survivors had neurological sequelae. 12 (27%) had papilloedema. The mean microvascular blood volume was higher in patients with papilloedema (3.28 v 2.54 arbitrary units, p = 0.002). The blood velocity correlated directly with haematocrit (r = 0.46, p = 0.001) and inversely with blood glucose (r = −0.49, p = 0.001).

Conclusion: The increase in ONH microvascular blood volume in papilloedema measured by LDF is consistent with current theories of pathogenesis of papilloedema. LDF has potential as a tool to distinguish papilloedema from pseudopapilloedematous disc swellings. The relationship between blood velocity and haematocrit may relate to levels of sequestration in cerebral malaria.

  • CNS, central nervous system
  • LDF, laser Doppler flowmetry
  • ONH, optic nerve head

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