Sharp Health News
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the No. 1 leading cause of death among men and women. But not all heart diseases are created equal. One condition known as coronary microvascular disease (MVD) seems to target women — in particular, young women. Experts believe that the disease may affect up to 3 million women in the United States.
You may be familiar with coronary artery disease, which occurs when plaque builds up in the large arteries of the heart, blocking blood flow. The buildup prevents blood from reaching the heart. In coronary MVD, the tiny arteries that branch off from the larger coronary arteries are typically clear; however, their inner walls are damaged, which can also lead to decreased blood flow and spasms.
There is a tendency for women to develop coronary MVD more often than men — for various reasons ranging from low estrogen levels to poor health. Women who have a family history of heart muscle disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol; who are overweight or obese; or who smoke are at higher risk for coronary MVD.
Knowing the signs
A common sign of coronary MVD is chest pain that lasts longer than 10 minutes. Other signs include fatigue, low energy and shortness of breath. Unlike other heart diseases where symptoms occur during physical activity, such as walking upstairs or jogging, most coronary MVD symptoms happen during routine daily activities, such as running errands, gardening or cleaning.
The challenge with coronary MVD is knowing whether you have it or not. Unlike other heart diseases, there are no standardized tests to detect coronary MVD. Most cardiovascular tests look for blockages in the large coronary arteries, possibly missing abnormalities present in the tinier arteries of the heart where coronary MVD occurs.
“Although researchers are still working on tests to detect coronary MVD, there are ways that doctors can still diagnose the disease,” said Dr. Behzad Taghizadeh, cardiovascular disease specialist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “We can diagnose it based on medical history, physical exam and other tests, such as blood and stress tests.”
For those diagnosed with coronary MVD, treatment focuses on pain relief and improvement.
“You may be prescribed cholesterol medicines to improve cholesterol levels, prevent blood clots or lower blood pressure,” Dr. Taghizadeh said. “Coronary MVD, if left untreated, like other heart diseases, can increase your risk for heart attack or stroke. So if you notice any symptoms, it is important to see a doctor so that proper assessment and treatment can be given.”
Along with seeking medical care, adopting a healthy lifestyle is key to helping reduce one’s risk for heart disease in general, according to Dr. Taghizadeh. “Limiting alcohol intake, reducing stress, not smoking, getting daily exercise and eating healthy foods are just some ways to reduce your risk of heart diseases and live a healthier life overall.”
— This article features experts from Sharp Grossmont Hospital. For more health stories, visit sharp.com/news.