What Is Microvascular Ischemia?

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  • Written By: Jami Yontz
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 16 February 2019
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Microvascular ischemia is a condition where the small coronary arteries in the heart narrow, causing a reduction in blood and oxygen supply to a certain area of the heart. The condition can also affect the small vessels in the brain that supply blood. Blood carries oxygen throughout the body, and ischemia can cause hypoxia to occur in the small arteries, which help to deliver blood from the heart to other organs in the body. This decrease in oxygen supply can cause severe damage to the heart and other organs, and the lack of oxygen can cause tissue to die.

Ischemia is usually caused by another condition, such as diabetes or hypertension. It can also be due to the build up of plaque in the small arteries, which then causes a blockage that prevents blood flow. Low blood pressure or an abnormal heart beat can prevent blood from being pumped through the small arteries of the heart or brain. Damage to the artery walls, either from consistent high blood pressure or the development of a mass, can cause microvascular ischemia. Those who smoke, are overweight, or have a family history of heart disease are more likely to develop the condition.


Microvascular ischemia can cause the heart to feel like it is cramping or being squeezed, creating a tightness in the chest. The person may feel nauseous or lightheaded because the brain or heart is not receiving enough oxygen. Pain in the shoulder or arm is also a common symptom of ischemia. Some people who have periodic ischemic attacks feel numbness, vertigo, or have trouble concentrating. More severe symptoms will occur if an artery becomes blocked rather than narrowed by plaque build up.

Consulting a physician is the first step in determining if a person could have microvascular ischemia. The doctor will perform numerous tests to determine how well the heart is working and if there has been damage to the heart or artery walls. A nuclear scan will show if blood flow throughout the heart or brain is abnormal.

If it is determined that the person has microvascular ischemia, there are several treatment plans that can be followed to increase the person’s quality of life and reduce the severity of symptoms. Blood thinners, including aspirin, will help to increase the amount of blood that is able to flow through the narrowed arteries. Medications that help manage a person’s high blood pressure, hypoglycemia, or high triglyceride levels are an effective method of treatment. Changes in lifestyle, including losing weight, quitting smoking, and being more active, will prevent the condition from progressing further.


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Post 1

It's nice to finally get an answer. The doctor said I had this but no idea what it was. This explains it. However, is there anything I can do besides lose weight? Aspirin helps but isn't there a drug which breaks down blockages? I'm only 39 and not overweight.

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