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Current treatment of central retinal artery occlusion: a national survey



Central retinal artery occlusion (CRAO) is an ophthalmological emergency, the retinal analog of a stroke. To date there is no consensus or national guidelines on how this disorder should be managed. As academic neurologists and ophthalmologists treat CRAO frequently, we set out to understand how these clinicians approach patients with CRAO with a national survey.


We identified university-associated teaching hospitals offering vascular neurology, neuro-ophthalmology and/or retina fellowships in the US and asked the directors of the programs to respond to questions in an open response format to profile the acute management of CRAO at their institution.


We found remarkable heterogeneity in the approach to acute treatment of patients with CRAO among the 45 institutions that responded to the survey. Only 20% had a formal policy, guideline or white paper to standardize the approach to treatment. The primary treating physician was an ophthalmologist, neurologist, or neuro-ophthalmologist 44, 27, and 4% of the time, respectively; 24% were co-managed acutely by neurology and ophthalmology. Intravenous fibrinolysis was offered to selected patients in 53% of institutions, and was the preferred initial treatment in 36%. When the acute treatment team involved a vascular neurologist, fibrinolysis was more likely to be considered a first-line treatment (p < 0.05). Anterior chamber paracentesis, ocular massage and hyperbaric oxygen therapy were offered 42, 66 and 7% of the time, respectively, while 9% of institutions offered no treatment. Anterior chamber paracentesis was more likely to be offered at programs where neurologists were not involved in treating CRAOs (p < 0.001). At 35% of institutions, patients with acute CRAO were not routinely referred to a general emergency room for initial evaluation and treatment. Carotid imaging was routinely obtained by 89% of programs, magnetic resonance imaging of the brain by 69%, echocardiogram by 62%, laboratory screening for an inflammatory state by 27% and retinal angiography by 30%. The thoroughness of vascular risk factors’ screening was greater in programs that routinely referred acute CRAO cases to the emergency department.


This survey shows that there is significant variability in treatment practices for acute CRAO in the US. Because of the high cerebrovascular and cardiovascular risk reported in this population of patients, it is notable that the approach to risk factor screening is also highly variable and many programs do not routinely refer patients to an emergency department for urgent evaluation. Finally, there appears to be equipoise among treatment teams regarding the efficacy of systemic fibrinolysis, as 53% of programs report a willingness to treat at least some patients with this modality.

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We are grateful to all of the participants in the survey.

Author information




All authors were involved in the conception and design of the survey, data collection, analysis and editing the manuscript for intellectual content. MS supervised the study and drafted the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Matthew Schrag.

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Conflicts of interest

None of the authors have conflicts of interests to disclose related to this study.

Ethical statement

There are no redundant or duplicate publications or submissions of this material. A portion of this material has been presented at the American Academy of Neurology Meeting and published as an abstract. Dr. Schrag takes full responsibility for the data, analyses and interpretation contained in this manuscript; he had full access to all of the data and confirms that this research was conducted with the highest ethical standards. The authors have the right to publish these data.

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Youn, T.S., Lavin, P., Patrylo, M. et al. Current treatment of central retinal artery occlusion: a national survey. J Neurol 265, 330–335 (2018).

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  • Retinal artery
  • tPA
  • Fibrinolysis
  • Survey
  • Risk factors
  • Cerebrovascular disease