To test the hypothesis that microvascular obstruction to blood flow at the level of the arteriole may be significant in individuals with sickle cell anemia, the ophthalmologic effects of orally administered nifedipine were monitored in 11 steady-state patients. Three patients with evidence of acute peripheral retinal arteriolar occlusion displayed a prompt reperfusion of the involved segment. Two other patients showed fading of retroequatorial red retinal lesions. Color vision performance was improved in six of the nine patients tested. The majority of patients also demonstrated a significant decrease in the amount of blanching of the conjunctiva which reflects improved blood flow to this frequently involved area. Such improvements were not observable in a control group of untreated stable sickle cell subjects. These findings support the hypothesis that inappropriate vasoconstriction or frank vasospasm may be a significant factor in the pathogenesis of the microvascular lesions of sickle cell disease and, further, that selective microvascular entrapment inhibition may offer an additional strategy to the management of this disorder. We believe a larger, placebo-controlled study with nifedipine and similar agents is warranted.

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