WHAT IS CORONARY MICROVASCULAR DISEASE?
IN A NUTSHELL
Coronary Microvascular Disease (MVD), also known as “small vessel disease” is a type of coronary heart disease that affects the heart’s smallest coronary arteries, arterioles and capillaries. It is a condition where the walls of the small arteries in the heart are damaged or diseased. MVD is different from traditional coronary artery disease (CAD) where plaque builds up in the heart’s large arteries and leads to blockages (i.e., obstructions) that limit or prevent oxygen rich blood from reaching the heart muscle. Source: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
In Coronary MVD:
- It’s often diagnosed after a doctor finds little or no obstructions in the main arteries of your heart, despite having symptoms of heart disease.
- Walls and the inner lining of the arteries are damaged or diseased
- Arteries spasm (tighten) – Spasms of the small coronary arteries also can decrease oxygen-rich blood flow moving through the arteries. This too can prevent oxygen rich blood from reaching the heart muscle.
- Plaque doesn’t create blockages (i.e., non-obstructive) in these vessels as it does in the hearts large arteries.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
HEART DISEASE AND STROKE CAUSE 1 IN 3 WOMEN'S DEATHS EACH YEAR (cdc.gov)
Heart Disease (including Coronary Heart Disease, Hypertension, and Stroke) remains to be the No. 1 cause of death in the US. About 790,000 people in the US have heart attacks each year. Of those, about 114,000 will die. Pause and think about 3 women in your life.
SAVING LIVES IN THE COMMUNITY
Many women with coronary MVD have angina. Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when your heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. Angina may feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest. Angina pain may even feel like heart burn or indigestion. Angina also is a common symptom of CHD. However, the angina that occurs in coronary MVD, the chest pain usually lasts longer than 10 minutes, and it can last longer than 30 minutes.
As intricate as our body’s systems are, they are very adept at giving signals when there is something wrong. When there is a problem with the heart, it triggers nerves in that area, but you sometimes feel pain elsewhere. Pain in the jaw, back or arms may signal a heart condition, especially if the origin is hard to pinpoint (e.g., there is no specific muscle or joint that aches).
Here are some other signs to look out for:
- Women can have pain in either arm – not just the left one like many men.
- Pain in the lower or upper back often starts in the chest and spreads to these areas
- The pain is sometimes sudden, not due to physical exertion, and can wake you up at night.
- You may feel pain that is specific to the left, lower side of the jaw.
Pain in the back, neck, or jaw is a more common heart attack symptom for women than it is for men.
This symptom can come on suddenly. It may occur while you are at rest or with minimal physical activity. You may struggle to breathe or try taking deep breaths. Shortness of breath may start before or at the same time as chest pain or discomfort, and can even be your only symptom.
As women age, a lack of exercise and gradual weight gain cause issues like shortness of breath. But this symptom can signal a heart problem when it happens in certain situations:
- Sudden shortness of breath without exertion
- Breathlessness that continues to worsen over time after exertion
- Shortness of breath that worsens when lying down and improves when propping up
- Shortness of breath accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain or fatigue
Sudden and unusual tiredness or lack of energy is one of the most common symptoms of heart attack in women, and one of the easiest to ignore. It can come on suddenly or be present for days. More than half of women having a heart attack experience muscle tiredness or weakness that is not related to exercise.
Like many women, you’re probably busy most of the time. You may take care of a family, run a household, work outside the home and care for aging parents. You are probably also tired a lot of the time. Most likely this is normal. But you should pay attention to fatigue if it is new or dramatic. Here’s what to watch out for:
- You are suddenly worn out after your typical exercise routine
- You aren’t exerting yourself, but have fatigue or a “heavy” chest
- Simple activity like making the bed, walking to the bathroom or shopping makes you excessively tired.
- Although you feel exceptionally tired, you also experience sleep disturbance.
Unlike in the movies, most heart attacks do not make you pass out right away. Instead, you may suddenly feel dizzy or light-headed.
Women are twice as likely as men to experience nausea, vomiting, or indigestion during their heart attack. These feelings are often written off as having a less serious cause. Remember, nausea and vomiting may be signs that something is seriously wrong, especially if you have other symptoms.
Hot flashes are a common complaint for many women during menopause. But this symptom can signal a heart problem when it happens in certain situations:
- Sudden sweating without exertion
- “Stress” sweat (cold, clammy feeling) when there is no real cause for stress
- Sweating accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain or fatigue.