The coronary microcirculation plays a key role in modulating blood supply to the myocardium. Several factors like myocardial oxygen demands, endothelial and neurogenic conditions determine its function. Although there is available evidence supporting microvascular dysfunction as an important cause of myocardial ischaemia, with both prognostic and symptomatic implications, its diagnosis and management in clinical practice is still relegated to a second plane. Both diagnostic and therapeutic approaches are hampered by the broadness of the concept of microvascular dysfunction, which fails addressing the plurality of mechanisms leading to dysfunction. Normal microcirculatory function requires both structural integrity of the microcirculatory vascular network and preserved signalling pathways ensuring adequate and brisk arteriolar resistance shifts in response to myocardial oxygen demands. Pathological mechanisms affecting these requirements include structural remodelling of microvessels, intraluminal plugging, extravascular compression or vasomotor dysregulation. Importantly, not every diagnostic technique provides evidence on which of these pathophysiological mechanisms is present or predominates in the microcirculation. In this paper we discuss the mechanisms of coronary microvascular dysfunction and the intracoronary tools currently available to detect it, as well as the potential role of each one to unmask the main underlying mechanism.
- Coronary microvascular dysfunction
- Intracoronary physiology techniques
- Mechanisms of microvascular dysfunction