Fibromuscular Dysplasia: Diagnosis and Treatment

28 July, 2020
Fibromuscular dysplasia can often be difficult to diagnose because many patients don't manifest any symptoms. Today, we'll tell you more about the diagnosis and treatment of this disease.

Fibromuscular dysplasia is a disease that causes one or more arteries in the body to develop abnormally. And, as a result, this abnormal development affects the walls of these large vessels, leading to a variety of consequences. For example, a narrowing of the vessels– a condition known as stenosis–, aneurysms, or tearing (arterial dissection).

Narrowing and tearing can cause a decrease in an artery’s blood flow. Consequently, this can lead to a series of symptoms which we’ll look at in detail in the following article. Fibromuscular dysplasia especially affects the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys and the brain.

At the same time, it’s important to point out that this illness affects many more women than it does men. However, men, as well as some children, can also suffer from the disease.

Furthermore, it’s difficult to determine just how common this illness is in the general population. The reason for this is that patients with mild fibromuscular dysplasia often don’t display any symptoms. As a result, their condition goes undetected.

The causes of fibromuscular dysplasia

What is fibromuscular dysplasia?
Fibromuscular dysplasia is an illness that affects the walls of large blood vessels and poses a serious health risk for patients.

Currently, experts are unaware of what exactly leads to fibromuscular dysplasia. However, there are several theories on the subject:

For one, some theories suggest the existence of a genetic cause. However, the condition can affect the arteries of different family members in different ways. What’s more, the severity of the disease can vary, and some family members may not develop it at all.

At the same time, as we mentioned, the disease is much more common in women than men. Therefore, some theories suggest that hormones may play a fundamental role in the development of this disease. However, some studies also suggest that the use of birth control pills seems to have no relationship with dysplasia. And finally, other possible causes include:

  • The abnormal development of the arteries that irrigate the walls of blood vessels, resulting in insufficient oxygen
  • The anatomical position and movement of the artery within the body
  • Certain medications
  • Tobacco use

Symptoms

One of the biggest problems when it comes to diagnosing this illness is that many patients don’t display any symptoms. However, the symptoms that some patients do manifest will depend on which arteries are affected. At the same time, symptoms will depend on whether or not narrowing, tearing, or aneurysms are present in the affected arteries.

Any pain or clinical symptom having to do with the disease originates from the organ that the affected artery carries blood to. In that sense, some of the possible symptoms of fibromuscular dysplasia include the following:

  • High blood pressure
  • Blood tests that reveal the abnormal functioning of the kidney
  • A murmur that the doctor can hear in the neck using a stethoscope
  • Buzzing in the ears
  • Pain
  • Intracranial bleeding

It’s important to remember that, as we’ve mentioned, the symptoms that a given patient experiences will depend on which artery the disease affects.

Read more: 5 Exercises for People With High Blood Pressure

The diagnosis of fibromuscular dysplasia

Red blood cells.
Currently, one of the most common techniques that specialists use to diagnose this disease is an arteriogram.

The diagnosis of fibromuscular dysplasia consists of an image exploration of the blood vessels. Today, there are many different techniques that allow specialists to perform this diagnostic testing, including:

  • Doppler ultrasonography: This is a specialized ultrasound technique for blood vessels.
  • Arterial ACT: This administers contrast to the veins.
  • A special type of MRI.

In many cases, in order to diagnose this disease, doctors must utilize a procedure known as an arteriogram or angiography. A radiologist, vascular surgeon, cardiologist, or a specialist in vascular medicine must perform the procedure.

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Treatment

Currently, there’s no cure for fibromuscular dysplasia. Therefore, the treatment of this condition focuses on relieving symptoms and reducing complications.

Some pharmaceuticals that serve these purpose are:

  • Antiplatelet drugs: For example, aspirin.
  • Blood pressure medicines.
  • NSAIDs: For treating the headaches that patients often experience.

At the same time, it’s worth mentioning that, in some cases, attempts should be made to improve blood flow through narrow vessels. Specialists usually utilize procedures like balloon angioplasty or percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (PTA).

However, the choosing of these procedures will depend on the affected arteries, the presence of symptoms, and their severity.

  • Bragulat Baur, E., de la Sierra Iserte, A., & Alcaraz Asensio, A. (2013). Displasia fibromuscular de la arteria renal. Hipertensión y Riesgo Vascular. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1889-1837(01)71119-1
  • Benavente Fernández, L., Calleja, S., Fernández, J. M., & Lahoz, C. H. (2008). Fibromuscular dysplasia. Asymptomatic dissection and occlusion of the basilar artery | Displasia fibromuscular, disección y oclusión asintomática de la arteria basilar. Neurologia.
  • Blanes-Mompó, J. I., Crespo-Moreno, I., ómez-Palonés, F. G., Martínez-Meléndez, S., Martínez-Perelló, I., Ortiz-Monzón, E., … Verdejo-Tamarit, R. (2013). Claudicación intermitente en el adulto joven: arteriopatía no arteriosclerótica. Angiología. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0003-3170(02)74743-3