Siegrist Streaks and Elschnig Spots

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Siegrist spots are manifestations of hypertensive choroidopathy which are associated with malignant hypertension, defined as blood pressure of 180/120mmHg in association with end-organ damage. They are named after the Swiss ophthalmologist August Siegrist, who initially documented these in 1899[1] after noticing a pattern of retinal lesions in two patients, one with giant cell arteritis and one with malignant hypertension. These lesions are commonly associated with giant cell arteritis and other inflammatory vascular etiologies[2]. On histological exam, Siegrist streaks tend to appear as sclerosed choroidal vessels with overlying necrosis of the choriocapillaris, which leads to secondary RPE atrophy[3]. The streaks can also develop reactive retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) hyperplasia and hypertrophy along the margins even 2-3 weeks after the initial onset of the choroidal ischemia[4].

Discovered in the 1900s in Prague, the spots are named after Anton Elschnig. Elschnig spots are small isolated circular areas with central retinal pigment[5], epithelial pigment clumping, and surrounding areas of depigmentation. They occur secondary to infarctions or necrosis of the choriocapillaris that cause changes in the overlying RPE[6]. The spots can occur in isolation, unlike Siegrist streaks, which occur along the course of sclerosed choroidal vessels.

Risk factors/Pathophysiology

The primary etiologies of Siegrist streaks are usually malignant hypertension and giant cell arteritis (GCA), with causation more commonly linked to severe arterial hypertension[6][7][8]. Diseases associated with malignant hypertension may also cause Siegrist streaks, including documented cases of preeclampsia/HELLP syndrome, adrenal carcinomas, as well as more rare illnesses such as Takayasu arteritis[9][10][11][12].

The retina receives dual blood supply from the branches of the ophthalmic artery, with the inner retina being supplied from the central retinal artery and the outer choroid and retina being supplied by the long and short posterior ciliary arteries[13]. The posterior ciliary artery also serves as the main arterial blood supply. The choroidal bed also differs from the retinal vascular bed in that the former lacks an autoregulatory mechanism for blood flow and has no blood-ocular barrier; this serves in contrast to the retinal vasculature which has a blood-retinal barrier and autoregulation of the blood supply. Because of these factors, the choroid and retinal vascular beds have differing reactions to elevated blood pressure and ischemia6[6].

The pathophysiology of Siegrist streaks and Elschnig spots are similar. The choroid is the layer between the RPE and sclera, and it receives blood flow from the short and long posterior ciliary arteries. Accelerated hypertension and/or ophthalmic ciliary artery occlusion (from GCA or other vasculitides) can lead to choroidal ischemia and thus hypertensive choroidopathy[14]. Siegrist streak pathophysiology stems from an initial acute marked elevation in systemic blood pressure, causing acute multifocal areas of fibrin platelet occlusion and necrosis of the choriocapillaris. This leads to corresponding RPE necrosis of the area and then sclerosis of the same choriocapillaris in a patchy distribution. Eventually, the sclerotic choroidal vessels undergo hyperpigmentation, leading to the appearance of Siegrist streaks. Elschnig spots stem from similar pathophysiology but are secondary to the focal destruction of the choriocapillaris due to nonperfusion after an acute insult, ischemia, or necrosis.

Figure 1. Pathophysiology of Siegrist Streaks and Elschnig Spots

Figure 1. Pathophysiology of Siegrist Streaks and Elschnig Spots


Exam Findings

Physical examination of the patient should focus on vital sign acquisition in addition to complete cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurological, and dilated fundus exam. Patients should be asked for a detailed history and checked for symptoms of hypertension such as headaches, eye pain, reduced visual acuity, chest pain, shortness of breath, dyspnea on exertion, nocturnal dyspnea, orthopnea, and palpitations. Inquiry should also include any history of complications from hypertension, including but not limited to a history of coronary or vascular disease, history of stroke or TIA, or history of heart failure, though patients may present as asymptomatic given compensatory baroreceptor adjustments[15].

Clinical presentation may include blurred vision for a period of months, specifically in a known hypertensive patient, and this may coincide with a history of vasculitis, leading to sudden vision loss in one or both eyes[2][16]. On dilated fundus exam, Siegrist streaks appear as linear configurations of hyperpigmentation that develop over choroidal arteries. Elschnig spots appear as yellow demarcated lesions, primarily in the perimacular region[14]. These are the non-perfused areas of the choriocapillaris and are pale or gray-yellow in color with well-defined margins[17]. Once scarred, there may be central pigment seen within the atrophic region.

Other potential common lab findings: see GCA findings.

Other Imaging

Diagnostic testing for Siegrist streaks may show linear granular or mottled autofluorescence16 when in the active stage of hypertensive choroidopathy. Later in the disease progression, hypo-autofluorescence may be seen, indicating RPE atrophy has occurred. On Humphrey Visual Field testing, a noticeable visual field defect can be found corresponding to the area of necrosis[18]. On OCT-A exam, multiple flow voids may be noted corresponding to the areas of choriocapillaris nonperfusion[19].

Elschnig spots on indocyanine green and fluorescein angiography may demonstrate leakage in early stages with patchy or delayed choroidal filling. Fluorescein angiography may show focal areas of hyperfluorescence consistent with window defects. When healed, Elschnig spots do not demonstrate fluorescein leakage, but there may be transmission defects or blocking that appear in the hyperpigmented area with surrounding hyperfluorescence[20]. There may also be other findings seen typically with hypertensive retinopathy. On autofluorescence, hypo-autofluorescence may be seen in the areas of Elschnig spots[14].


See Hypertensive Choroidopathy.


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