The study had two main purposes: (1) to determine whether the foveal visual sensitivities of people treated for high blood pressure (vascular hypertension) differ from the sensitivities of people who have not been diagnosed with high blood pressure and (2) to understand how visual adaptation is related to standard measures of systemic cardiovascular function. Two groups of middle-aged subjects—hypertensive and normotensive—were examined with a series of test/background stimulus combinations. All subjects met rigorous inclusion criteria for excellent ocular health. Although the visual sensitivities of the two subject groups overlapped extensively, the age-related rate of sensitivity loss was, for some measures, greater for the hypertensive subjects, possibly because of adaptation differences between the two groups. Overall, the degree of steady-state sensitivity loss resulting from an increase of background illuminance (for 580-nm backgrounds) was slightly less for the hypertensive subjects. Among normotensive subjects, the ability of a bright (3.8-log-td), long-wavelength (640-nm) adapting background to selectively suppress the flicker response of long-wavelength-sensitive (LWS) cones was related inversely to the ratio of mean arterial blood pressure to heart rate. The degree of selective suppression was also related to heart rate alone, and there was evidence that short-term changes of cardiovascular response were important. The results suggest that (1) vascular hypertension, or possibly its treatment, subtly affects visual function even in the absence of eye disease and (2) changes in blood flow affect retinal light-adaptation processes involved in the selective suppression of the flicker response from LWS cones caused by bright, long-wavelength backgrounds.
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