In fibromuscular dysplasia, the muscle and fibrous tissues in your arteries thicken, causing the arteries to narrow. This may reduce blood flow to your organs, leading to organ damage. Fibromuscular dysplasia of the artery to the kidney (renal artery) is shown here, with a "string of beads" appearance.
Fibromuscular dysplasia is a condition that causes narrowing (stenosis) and enlargement (aneurysm) of the medium-sized arteries in your body. Narrowed arteries may reduce blood flow and affect the function of your organs.
Fibromuscular dysplasia appears most commonly in the arteries leading to the kidneys and brain. Fibromuscular dysplasia can affect other arteries, including those leading to your legs, heart, abdomen and rarely the arms.
Treatments are available, but there isn't a cure for fibromuscular dysplasia.
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Signs or symptoms of the disease depend on what artery is affected by fibromuscular dysplasia. Sometimes, more than artery is narrowed. Many people who have fibromuscular dysplasia don't have any symptoms.
Kidney signs and symptoms
If the arteries leading to your kidneys (renal arteries) are affected, you may have:
- High blood pressure
- Tissue damage in your kidneys (ischemic renal atrophy)
- Chronic kidney failure (rarely)
Brain signs and symptoms
If the arteries leading to your brain (carotid arteries) are affected, you may have:
- Temporary loss of vision
- Pulsating ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
- Neck pain
- Facial weakness or numbness
- Weakness or numbness in the limbs
- Difficulty speaking
Abdominal signs and symptoms
If the arteries leading to your abdomen (mesenteric arteries) are affected, you may have:
- Abdominal pain after eating
- Unintended weight loss
Heart signs and symptoms
Fibromuscular dysplasia often occurs with tears in the walls of your coronary arteries, also called arterial dissection or spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD). But the exact connection between these two conditions isn't yet clear. If the arteries leading to your heart (coronary arteries) are affected, you may have:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Leg and arm signs and symptoms
If the arteries leading to your arms or legs (peripheral arteries) are affected, you may have:
- Discomfort when moving your legs, feet, arms or hands
- Cold limbs
- Skin changes in color or appearance
When to see a doctor
If you have fibromuscular dysplasia, seek medical attention immediately if you have any of these signs and symptoms:
- Sudden changes in your vision
- Sudden changes in your ability to speak
- Sudden or new weakness in your arms or legs
If you have any of the other signs or symptoms listed and are concerned about your risk of fibromuscular dysplasia, see your doctor.
Fibromuscular dysplasia can be passed down through families (inherited). Talk to your doctor about your family health history so together you can be alert to changes that might suggest you have fibromuscular dysplasia. There's currently no genetic test for fibromuscular dysplasia.
The cause of fibromuscular dysplasia is unknown. However, several factors may play a role.
- Genetics. If someone in your family has fibromuscular dysplasia, you might get the condition, too. It might occur in a different artery or you may have a milder or more severe case. Or, you may never get fibromuscular dysplasia at all. Not everyone who has fibromuscular dysplasia has a relative with the disease.
- Hormones. Women have fibromuscular dysplasia more often than men do, so researchers think hormones may play a role in the development of the disease. But exactly how is unclear. Fibromuscular dysplasia is not linked to a woman's use of birth control pills, number of pregnancies, or age when they gave birth.
- Abnormally formed arteries. A lack of oxygen to the arteries or the use of certain medications or tobacco can cause the arteries to develop abnormally, leading to reduced blood flow. Sometimes, the arteries may be positioned abnormally.
Several things can make you more likely to get fibromuscular dysplasia.
- Sex. Women have a much greater risk of fibromuscular dysplasia than do men.
- Age. Fibromuscular disorder tends to be diagnosed in people in their early 50s.
- Smoking. If you smoke, quit. People who smoke appear to have an increased risk of developing fibromuscular dysplasia. For those already diagnosed with the disease, smoking increases the risk for more serious fibromuscular dysplasia.
Fibromuscular dysplasia can cause a number of complications. These include:
- High blood pressure. A common complication of fibromuscular dysplasia is high blood pressure. The narrowing of the arteries causes higher pressure on your artery walls, which can lead to further artery damage, heart disease or heart failure.
- Dissected artery. Fibromuscular dysplasia and tears in the walls of your arteries often occur together. This process, called arterial dissection or spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), can limit blood flow to the organ supplied by the injured artery. This can affect any artery.
- Aneurysms. Fibromuscular dysplasia can weaken the walls of your arteries, creating a bulge called an aneurysm. If an aneurysm ruptures, it can be a life-threatening emergency. An aneurysm can occur in any artery affected by fibromuscular dysplasia.
- Stroke. If you have a dissected artery leading to your brain or if an aneurysm in an artery to your brain ruptures, you can have a stroke. High blood pressure can also increase your risk of a stroke.