Small Vessel Disease

What is Small Vessel Disease?

Small vessel disease, or coronary microvascular disease, causes tiny arteries in the heart to constrict. These small vessels are usually narrower when a person is at rest, but they are also supposed to expand and allow more oxygen-rich blood during physical activity.

This disease is more commonly seen as a person gets into their senior years, but there are many different causes that can increase the risk of development, such as lifestyle choices, certain medical conditions, and injury.

For example, those who use tobacco, consume too much fat in their diet, have high body mass index scores, or are sedentary can be at a higher risk for this disease. Some medical conditions, like chronic inflammation, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or diabetes can also cause small vessel disease. If these small arteries experience trauma, spasms, or a buildup of plaque, they can also constrict.

What are the Symptoms of Small Vessel Disease?

One of the main signs of small vessel disease is angina, which is a feeling of pressure, tightness, or squeezing in the chest. Angina can also make a person sweat or feel pain in their neck, jaw, or arms. Angina can flare up during physical activity or when a person is stressed out. Other symptoms of small vessel disease include difficulty catching one’s breath, fainting, fatigue, and lightheadedness.

Small Vessel Disease Causes

There are a great many factors which can contribute to the narrowing of the heart’s small arteries, which is known as small vessel disease, and most of these are related to the lifestyle of the person. Tobacco use is always a risk factor for a myriad of different health problems, and studies have revealed that those who smoke are many times more likely to develop small vessel disease.

Diabetes is another factor, and it is especially important that those who have diabetes do not further exacerbate it by living a sedentary lifestyle or having weight problems such as obesity. High cholesterol and high blood pressure are contributing factors as well, which can eventually lead to the arteries not expanding with activity as they are supposed to. A problem that can lead to small vessel disease, particularly in women, is that of an estrogen deficiency. Whenever this hormone is not properly controlled it can cause heart complications which are difficult to reverse.

How is Small Vessel Disease Treated?

Unfortunately, surgery is not an option for small vessel disease since the arteries are too tiny to operate on. However, a doctor can help a patient monitor the condition, and there are many medications a person can take to manage it. For instance, over-the-counter medications—like aspirin—can reduce the chance of blood clotting. Other drugs that can be used include statins, beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, nitroglycerin, and the like. Many of these drugs help to relax the heart’s arteries, thus improving blood flow and blood pressure.

Small Vessel Disease Prevention

The best way to try and insure that small vessel disease does not cause problems is to live an active lifestyle that includes a healthy diet as well as an appropriate amount of exercise. This will keep the heart’s small arteries expanding and contracting in a normal fashion as they take the extra oxygen from the blood stream. It is also important that those with diabetes utilize the appropriate medication and treatment options to keep it well-controlled so that it will not lead to serious heart problems. Finally, estrogen deficiency is another potential factor, and as such it is important for women to keep a check on their estrogen levels through the proper screenings and treatments to make sure that they keep everything well-regulated in their bodies.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 09, 2017