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Doc Talk | Microvascular disease

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Microvascular disease (MVD) used to be known as "Syndrome X" because it was so hard to diagnose and understand exactly what was going on in a person's heart. But doctors now have a name for it and know it's a legitimate disease, even though it remains difficult to diagnose.

Microvascular disease shares symptoms with most other heart-related problems. Those symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue.

The reason it's so hard to diagnose is because it can be invisible.

It used to be that if someone went to the hospital complaining of chest pain and doctors couldn't see anything wrong, the patient was sent home.

"We have no blockages so we tell those women, you have no blockages. Go your merry way," said Holy Spirit cardiologist Dr. Lenke Erki.

That's not the case anymore.

"Now we know that there’s such a thing as microvascular disease. So all those blockages can happen at the microvascular level, which we do not see unfortunately," said Dr. Erki.

That's what microvascular disease is: blockages that occur in such small blood vessels, they're hard to see.

Symptoms and treatment are the same as any other heart-related issue, namely a patient experiences chest pain and is prescribed medication to manage the blockage and the pain. The main difference is in the testing done to first find and diagnose the disease, and if not spotted, it could be deadly.

"It can actually be more detrimental and more dangerous than the macrovascular disease or heart attack because with the heart attack, we can see where the blockage is. We can open it up," said Dr. Erki.

Dr. Lenke Erki says the most important thing is awareness.

These women have to be on medication, and you have to be very aware because certainly microvascular angina and blockages can progress.

If you're experiencing ongoing chest pain, particularly pain that lasts longer than ten minutes, see your doctor.

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