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What is Vascular Dysfunction?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Vascular dysfunction is a disorder of the vascular system characterized by poor function of the blood vessels. In patients with this condition, the structure of the blood vessels may be normal, with no obvious lesions like plaques, but the function is disrupted and the patient experiences impaired blood flow as a result. Women are especially prone to vascular dysfunction and it can lead to delays in diagnosis of conditions like myocardial ischemia, where the heart is not getting enough blood, as the patients will not experience conventional symptoms and do not appear to have any vascular problems on superficial examination.

It is possible to experience both structural and functional changes to the blood vessels, and many patients with vascular dysfunction also experience structural issues like obstructions in the arteries created by plaques. Generally, vascular dysfunction involves the cells lining the blood vessels, and can be found in vessels of various sizes. These cells don't function normally, leading to problems with the circulatory system.

Patients will experience a reduction in blood flow, making it harder to get oxygen and nutrients to outlying cells. In addition, it is harder to remove wastes when the circulation is impaired. As a result, people with vascular dysfunction can experience cell death in cells that are not getting enough blood. This may be localized in a small area associated with particular impaired vessels.

Several diagnostic tools can be used to evaluate patients with suspected vascular dysfunction. Heart function tests can be used to see if the heart appears strained and it is also possible to measure the rate of blood flow at various vessels in addition to taking blood pressure measurements. Symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, and confusion can also be important to know about, as they may reflect interference with the supply of blood to the brain. In emergency situations where vascular dysfunction is clearly contributing to an issue like a heart attack, rapid medical intervention is needed to stabilize the patient.

Patients with vascular dysfunction can experience complications like those associated with cardiovascular disease, but with a different set of symptoms. This may make it harder for care providers to accurately identify the early warning signs of vascular problems, especially in the case of older practitioners who may have received training in an era when this condition was not recognized. People with a family history of cardiovascular problems should make sure they are carefully evaluated with an eye to functional, as well as structural, changes to the blood vessels.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By chrisinbama — On Aug 25, 2011

@waterhopper- I'm not a medical professional but I had never heard of a vascular dysfunction until reading this article. However, I have personally experienced vascular disease. The symptoms sound the same but I don't know if it the exact same condition.

Mine started with angina symptoms and chronic fatigue. It ended up that I had blocked arteries. After a while, my legs started getting cramps in them quite often. My doctor said that it was peripheral vascular disease and had the same cause as the blocked arteries, just in a different area. I would suggest that your aunt see a cardiologist and perhaps go a little more in depth with her testing.

By WaterHopper — On Aug 25, 2011

My aunt has recently been experiencing some health problems. She is 71 years old and has always taken very good care of herself. Her doctor diagnosed her as having atherosclerosis. He told her that her arteries were hardening and that it makes it difficult for blood to flow through. Her only symptoms were pain in her legs and stiffening of her legs.

He did some kind of Doppler test on her and told her that she was at high risk for having peripheral vascular disease. I don’t have a lot of medical knowledge so the whole thing sounded rather bad. Is peripheral vascular disease a serious condition? I don’t know if it is anything like vascular dysfunction but they sound similar.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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