The same risk factors that cause atherosclerosis (ATH-er-o-skler-O-sis) may cause coronary microvascular disease (MVD). Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up inside the arteries.
Risk factors for atherosclerosis include:
- Unhealthy blood cholesterol levels. This includes high LDL cholesterol (sometimes called "bad" cholesterol) and low HDL cholesterol (sometimes called "good" cholesterol).
- High blood pressure. Blood pressure is considered high if it stays at or above 140/90 mmHg over time. If you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure is defined as 130/80 mmHg or higher. (The mmHg is millimeters of mercury—the units used to measure blood pressure.)
- Smoking. Smoking can damage and tighten blood vessels, raise cholesterol levels, and raise blood pressure. Smoking also doesn't allow enough oxygen to reach the body's tissues.
- Insulin resistance. This condition occurs if the body can't use its insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps move blood sugar into cells where it's used for energy. Insulin resistance can lead to diabetes.
- Diabetes. This is a disease in which the body's blood sugar level is too high because the body doesn't make enough insulin or doesn't use its insulin properly.
- Overweight and obesity. The terms "overweight" and "obesity" refer to body weight that's greater than what is considered healthy for a certain height.
- Lack of physical activity. Physical inactivity can worsen other risk factors for atherosclerosis, such as unhealthy blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes, and overweight and obesity.
- Unhealthy diet. An unhealthy diet can raise your risk for atherosclerosis. Foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium (salt), and sugar can worsen other atherosclerosis risk factors.
- Older age. As you get older, your risk for atherosclerosis increases. Genetic or lifestyle factors cause plaque to build up in your arteries as you age. By the time you're middle-aged or older, enough plaque has built up to cause signs and symptoms. In men, the risk increases after age 45. In women, the risk increases after age 55.
- Family history of early heart disease. Your risk of atherosclerosis increases if your father or a brother was diagnosed with heart disease before 55 years of age, or if your mother or a sister was diagnosed with heart disease before 65 years of age.
In women, coronary MVD also may be linked to low estrogen levels occurring before or after menopause. Also, the disease may be linked to anemia or conditions that affect blood clotting. Anemia is thought to slow the growth of cells needed to repair damaged blood vessels.
Researchers continue to explore other possible causes of coronary MVD.
Celebrating American Heart Month: NIH Advancing Heart Research10/14/2014