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Small ischemic vessel disease, also called white matter disease, occurs as a result of damage to the brain’s white matter from a variety of sources. This disease is detected through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computer tomography (CT) tests. Severe damage to the vessels and white matter can cause problems with the functions of the brain and how it controls the body, potentially leading to awkward movements and speech difficulties.
The brain has many small vessels that are responsible for distributing and regulating blood, fluid, and oxygen in the brain. Small ischemic vessel disease occurs when there is damage to either the vessels themselves or the surrounding white brain matter. This damage eventually affects the brain matter, which is diagnosed with an MRI or CT.
Causes of the disease include diabetes, a stroke, hypertension, and migraine headaches. Other damage can be the result of conditions such as atherosclerosis, which reduces blood flow to the brain. This reduction of blood causes damage to tissue and vessels, which is called ischemic injury.
Research has shown that patients with diabetes and hypertension tend to have more tissue and vessel damage, but not every person with these conditions will suffer from small ischemic vessel disease. Some patients do not experience neurological problems that occur with white matter damage. Unless damage occurs on a severe level, as is common with strokes, the brain can usually adjust to slow damage.
In instances of strokes, the brain can be affected two ways. A stroke can cut off the blood supply to part of the brain, damaging the blood vessels and brain tissue. If this disease develops without a stroke happening first, it can leave a patient more susceptible to having one. White matter damage can cause problems with the vessels, thereby reducing blood flow, which can lead to a stroke.
Treating this disease is important. Medications are prescribed to increase blood flow, reduce clotting, and/or widen vessels. Since patients commonly suffer from underlying medical conditions, proper treatment for these problems is important.
Preventing damage to the small blood vessels in the brain is crucial when patients have several risk factors. This involves treating existing conditions that can potentially lead to vessel and white matter damage. Prevention also involves lifestyle changes, like preventing coronary blockages, exercising regularly, and eating healthy.