When a person suffers from fibromuscular dysplasia, they have an issue with the medium sized blood vessels (arteries) in their body. This medical condition can have two effects. It can either cause the arteries to narrow, which is known as stenosis, or can cause aneurysms in those arteries. Aneurysms occur when the walls of an artery weaken and a bulge forms. Aneurysms can burst causing massive blood loss and even death.
There is no known cause of fibromuscular dysplasia. However, physicians and researchers believe that some factors may contribute to the development of the disease. One of these factors is, of course, genetics. If a person has a relative with the condition, their chances of having fibromuscular dysplasia may increase. Women suffer from this condition more often than men and because of this, there may be a hormonal component to the development of fibromuscular dysplasia. And, of course, problems with arterial development could also contribute.
The symptoms of fibromuscular dysplasia depend on the artery or arteries affected by the condition. One of the most common locations for fibromuscular dysplasia is the renal (kidney) arteries.
Symptoms of the condition in this area include elevated blood pressure, kidney malfunctions, kidney shrinkage (known as atrophy), and lower back or flank pain. Sometimes, kidney failure occurs as well though it is rare.
The brain, heart, limbs, and elsewhere in the abdomen can all be affected as well. For carotid artery fibromuscular dysplasia (leading to the brain), headaches, dizziness, and throbbing or pain in the neck are common symptoms. Heart symptoms can include chest pain or possibly a heart attack. Symptoms in the limbs can include weakness, coldness, numbness, or discomfort with movement. And abdominal symptoms may include weight loss that is not intentional or noticeable discomfort, especially after eating.
The exact cause of fibromuscular dysplasia is unknown, but it is believed that genetics do play a role. However, having a relative with fibromuscular dysplasia does not guarantee that someone will acquire the condition themselves. Furthermore, even if someone has a relative with fibromuscular dysplasia, that person may develop a different form of the disease.
Fibromuscular dysplasia can present itself very differently in different people, regardless of family history, and this is important to keep in mind. Women are more likely to have fibromuscular dysplasia than men, so it is also believed that certain hormones play a role. While it seems that hormones play a role, some small studies have shown no correlation with pregnancy or hormonal birth control pills. Additionally, there is a possibility that fibromuscular dysplasia could be caused by improperly formed arteries, which limit the amount of oxygen blood cell walls receive. Finally, fibromuscular dysplasia is more common in people who smoke, so frequent smoking may play a role in developing fibromuscular dysplasia.
Since high blood pressure and headaches are extremely common symptoms of fibromuscular dysplasia, managing these symptoms is a priority in most treatment programs.
High blood pressure may benefit from taking aspirin daily or may require prescription medications. If a narrowed artery or aneurysm is causing serious problems with blood flow and safety, surgery may be necessary to correct the issue. These surgeries can be performed either using a catheter (known as an angioplasty) or a more open, invasive procedure depending on the extent of the damage and the location of the problematic artery.
Because it is not known exactly what causes fibromuscular dysplasia, there is no exact way of avoiding it. However, because it does appear more frequently in smokers, avoiding or quitting smoking may be one way of reducing one’s risk of developing fibromuscular dysplasia. Although there is no way to prevent fibromuscular dysplasia, there are ways of managing it with a doctor’s guidance. Treatment often involves surgery, and symptoms can be managed with the use of medication to lower blood pressure, remove excess fluid from the body, relax blood vessels, and slow one’s heartbeat to make it easier for blood to travel through the veins. If a smoker is diagnosed with fibromuscular dysplasia, their treatment plan will involve quitting smoking, as smoking exacerbates the condition.