Is Microvascular Disease Dangerous

Is Microvascular Disease Dangerous?

microvascular disease - heart animated image

Coronary microvascular disease or MVD can increase your risk of a heart attack. But that’s no reason to panic.

Likely, you came to this web page because you asked “Dr. Google” whether microvascular disease was dangerous or not.

Of course, having a heart attack is dangerous.

But you are not guaranteed to have a heart attack just because you have coronary microvascular disease.

And, fortunately, you can manage your heart condition so that your risk of heart attack is significantly lowered.

That’s great news, isn’t it?

So, let’s stop with the “dangerous” fearmongering and look at exactly what coronary microvascular disease is and how you can manage the condition.

What Exactly Is Coronary Microvascular Disease, Anyway?

Coronary microvascular disease (MVD) means exactly what the name suggests it means:

Coronary” indicates the heart.

Micro” means small.

Vascular” refers to the blood vessels.

Thus, coronary microvascular disease refers to damage to the small coronary (heart) arteries.

 This can happen for a variety of reasons in both men and women. Sometimes, it happens due to chronic hypertension (high blood pressure). Sometimes, diabetes can cause problems with the heart’s arteries. Low levels of estrogen in women can also cause damage to the small heart arteries.

Other names for the disease include:

  • ​Cardiac Syndrome X
  • ​Nonobstructive Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary microvascular disease is unfortunately sometimes difficult to diagnose, because it does not show up on standard tests for related issues such as coronary heart disease (CHD).

On the positive, treatment is fairly simple, and the condition can be managed by positive lifestyle changes such as better diet and regular exercise.

Symptoms of Coronary Microvascular Disease

One of the main symptoms of coronary microvascular disease, especially in women, is angina, otherwise known as chest pain. This occurs when the heart does not get enough oxygenated blood.

This pain is generally in the chest and may feel like your chest is being squeezed or has pressure on it. The pain can radiate out to the arms and shoulders, as well as the back. Even the neck and jaw may be affected.

Angina can be confused with indigestion, so if you have what you think is chronic indigestion, it is important to get checked out by a qualified physician.

Here are some additional signs and symptoms of coronary microvascular disease:

  • ​Shortness of breath
  • ​Insomnia
  • ​Fatigue
  • ​Low energy

Related, But Different, Heart Conditions

Understanding the difference between coronary microvascular disease and similar conditions can be helpful. Do not assume you have a specific heart condition without getting a proper diagnosis by a good cardiologist (heart doctor). Here are some conditions that are related to, confused with, or similar to coronary microvascular disease:

1. Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)

When we think about heart disease involving the arteries, we often think of coronary heart disease (CHD). Coronary heart disease is also known as coronary artery disease, hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis. It is usually what we mean when we talk about “heart disease” in a generic way.

Typically, in coronary heart disease, the larger coronary arteries are damaged, often by plaque build-up. The plaque makes the arteries narrower, thus reducing the supply of oxygen to the heart.

Ruptured plaque can cause blood clots, which can be very serious, block arteries, and cause a heart attack.

2. Mitral Valve Stenosis

Mitral valve stenosis (MVS) is a narrowing of the mitral valve opening that can cause fatigue and shortness of breath. It is not related to or caused by coronary microvascular disease. Mitral valve stenosis is typically caused by rheumatic fever that occurs in childhood. Calcium deposits can also cause this heart condition.

Mitral valve stenosis can be managed by medications and sometimes fixed through surgery. Exercise can make MVS symptoms worse, but this does not mean you should stop exercising if you have mitral valve stenosis. Low-level exercise on a regular basis is critical in managing this condition. You will need to get exercise guidelines from your doctor to make sure you exercise in a way that won’t aggravate the condition.

How Coronary Microvascular Disease is Diagnosed

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So now that you know about similar conditions, let us get back to coronary microvascular disease.

Coronary microvascular disease (MVD) is often diagnosed via exclusion – that is, it is often diagnosed not based on a primary test but based on what those other tests did not find.

Your doctor will look at your symptoms and overall health history as part of your diagnosis.

MVD has the same risk factors as coronary heart disease (CHD), so your doctor will often run tests for CHD, including an angiography, stress tests, and an MRI of your heart.

These tests cannot detect coronary microvascular disease because your tiny coronary arteries are too small to be detected. However, these tests will determine if you have CHD, and if your tests show that this is not the case, then MVD may be diagnosed.

A test for anemia may also be done, because a low blood count may retard the growth of important cells needed to fix the tiny blood vessels that are damaged.

How Coronary Microvascular Disease is Treated

In Western medicine, standard drug treatment is used to manage coronary microvascular disease. These drugs can include:

  • ​ACE inhibitors
  • ​Aspirin
  • ​Nitroglycerin tablets
  • ​Statin drugs

If you have anemia, you may be given an iron supplement.

Lifestyle Adjustments to Help Coronary Microvascular Disease

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As with any chronic condition, improving your lifestyle can have a very positive impact on your overall health. In some cases, a healthier lifestyle and lowering stress can not only improve your condition, but perhaps even reverse it.

There are a number of areas in your life that you can directly control to improve your heart health. They include:


Smoking, in particular, can damage your heart’s arteries and blood vessels. However, this danger does not just extend to tobacco smoking. Marijuana smoking might be just as dangerous, if not more, because people tend to hold in pot smoke when they inhale for longer periods than tobacco smoke.

According to the Harvard Medical School, while we have not done enough studies on how marijuana smoke affects the heart, “...marijuana smoke contains many of the same toxins, irritants, and carcinogens found in cigarette smoke — a known contributor to heart disease as well as cancer.”

Drinking too much alcohol, which would be more than two drinks per day, can also negatively affect your heart health.

2. Eat a Heart Healthy Diet

If you are constantly eating junk food loaded with salt and sugar, you are not doing your heart any favors.

A heart-healthy diet should consist of lots of vegetables, including leafy greens, fewer processed foods, and less sugar. Unless you have a condition that tends to lower blood pressure and requires more salt intake (such as POTS aka Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), then you should lower your salt intake as well.

Limit bad fats such as saturated fat and trans fats (found in things like certain types of margarine). Good fats such as avocado and healthy oils like olive oil are OK to consume.

Additionally, you should make sure you maintain a healthy weight.

3. Get Regular Exercise

Regular exercise will do a lot to help keep your heart healthy and even strengthen it. Talk to your doctor about what types of exercise would be appropriate for your current health and fitness levels.

Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

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If you have been diagnosed with coronary microvascular disease, and you think you might be having a heart attack, do not delay. Call 9-1-1 and go to the hospital. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Unfortunately, some of the chronic symptoms of coronary microvascular disease are also the symptoms of an acute heart attack. The angina pain that you may be used to feeling is also an indicator of a heart attack. With a heart attack, however, this pain is generally located more on the left side of the body where the heart is, and it may be more pronounced.

Shortness of breath as well as nausea, lightheadedness, or fainting can indicate a heart attack.

You should ask your doctor or cardiologist what specifically to look for in terms of heart attack signs and get clear on how they differ from your usual symptoms.

Taking Care of Your Heart is Important

microvascular disease

Whether you have coronary microvascular disease (MVD), coronary heart disease (CHD), mitral valve stenosis (MVS), taking care of your heart is important. No matter what heart condition you have, proper diet, stress reduction techniques, and appropriate exercise can help improve your heart health. You do not need to live in fear of an early heart attack. Start taking the proper lifestyle steps today to help you have a long-lived, healthy heart.

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