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How Is Coronary Microvascular Disease Diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose coronary microvascular disease (MVD) based on your medical history, a physical exam, and test results. He or she will check to see whether you have any risk factors for heart disease.

For example, your doctor may measure your weight and height to check for overweight or obesity. He or she also may recommend tests for high blood cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.

Your doctor may ask you to describe any chest pain, including when it started and how it changed during physical activity or periods of stress. He or she also may ask about other symptoms, such as fatigue (tiredness), lack of energy, and shortness of breath. Women may be asked about their menopausal status.

Specialists Involved

Cardiologists and doctors who specialize in family and internal medicine might help diagnose and treat coronary MVD. Cardiologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating heart diseases and conditions.

Diagnostic Tests

The risk factors for coronary MVD and traditional coronary heart disease (CHD) often are the same. Thus, your doctor may recommend tests for CHD, such as:

  • Coronary angiography (an-jee-OG-rah-fee). This test uses dye and special
    x rays to show the insides of your coronary arteries. Coronary angiography can show plaque buildup in the large coronary arteries. This test often is done during a heart attack to help find blockages in the coronary arteries.
  • Stress testing. This test shows how blood flows through your heart during physical stress, such as exercise. Even if coronary angiography doesn't show plaque buildup in the large coronary arteries, a stress test may still show abnormal blood flow. This may be a sign of coronary MVD.
  • Cardiac MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) stress test. Doctors may use this test to evaluate people who have chest pain.

Unfortunately, standard tests for CHD aren't designed to detect coronary MVD. These tests look for blockages in the large coronary arteries. Coronary MVD affects the tiny coronary arteries.

If test results show that you don't have CHD, your doctor might still diagnose you with coronary MVD. This could happen if signs are present that not enough oxygen is reaching your heart's tiny arteries.

Coronary MVD symptoms often first occur during routine daily tasks. Thus, your doctor may ask you to fill out a questionnaire called the Duke Activity Status Index (DASI). The questionnaire will ask you how well you're able to do daily activities, such as shopping, cooking, and going to work.

The DASI results will help your doctor decide which kind of stress test you should have. The results also give your doctor information about how well blood is flowing through your coronary arteries.

Your doctor also may recommend blood tests, including a test for anemia. Anemia is thought to slow the growth of cells needed to repair damaged blood vessels.

Research is ongoing for better ways to detect and diagnose coronary MVD. Currently, researchers have not agreed on the best way to diagnose the disease.

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Last Updated: November 2, 2011