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May 13, 2014

Common Heart Condition Goes Undetected in Men and Women

Coronary microvascular dysfunction may increase cardiovascular risk among both sexes.

Patients without coronary artery disease aren’t necessarily in the clear, according to research published in the American Heart Association’s medical journal, Circulation.

This study explored the occurrence of coronary microvascular dysfunction (CMD), a type of heart disease that affects the tiny blood vessels in the heart. Similar to other forms of heart disease, CMD causes symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue. However, CMD is difficult to detect in patients, leading experts to wonder how common the condition is and if it has implications for patients’ health.

To learn more on the subject, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston conducted in-depth screenings of more than 1,200 patients suspected to have heart disease. Patients were initially screened for coronary artery disease, but cleared because they had no significant build-up of plaque in the arteries. Based on additional testing, however, researchers found that more than half of these men and women had CMD. And perhaps more importantly, adults with CMD had much higher risk for heart attack and death compared to those without this small vessel disease.

Experts worry that these findings are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to CMD. Since this study only included a specific type of patients, it’s likely that CMD is even more common than this study estimates. And while previous research suggested that CMD is most common among females, this study suggests that the condition is common in both men and women.

Authors point out that there are many unanswered questions when it comes to CMD and hope for further research on the topic. Not only do we need to learn more about the diagnosis of CMD, we also need to learn how to treat the condition and reduce risk for potentially life-threatening complications.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is coronary microvascular dysfunction?
  • Coronary microvascular dysfunction is a type of heart disease occurring in the tiny blood vessels that branch from the coronary arteries. Unlike coronary artery disease which occurs when there’s plaque build-up in the arteries, CMD occurs when the inner walls of blood vessels become damaged.
  • What causes coronary microvascular dysfunction?
  • It’s likely that risk factors for coronary microvascular dysfunction are similar to those of coronary artery disease. Risk factors may include high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, older age, inactivity, overweight/obesity and family history of heart disease.

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