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Coronary microcirculation : What you see includes . . . what you don’t see as well !

Posted Oct 25 2011 9:14am

Human coronary circulation stands  unique among  others as it is a   life-sustaining circulation.It is  considered   a great  medical achievement   to visualise   the right and left coronary artery  system by coronary angiogram.  Actually  what we see is   only  a  fraction   of  the surface area  of  coronary circulation . The surface area of  epicardial coronary arteries   constitutes  less than 5 % of entire coronary vascular tree .

This  is the reason  normal coronary angiogram can never mean normal  coronary circulation !

This huge gap in our perception is the single important factor  that  explains the vagaries  of modern coronary care .

This also  make any coronary  scenario  a  reality .

“A patient with normal coronary angiogram getting a myocardial infarction the next day and a severe triple vessel disease living comfortably with medical management”

So ,  it is essentially a   false  sense of  scientific accomplishment   by the  cardiac scientists  at  least in the  of coronary circulatory physiology.

There are innumerable channels of micro vessels traversing across the heart, sharing , bridging , branching, penetrating  and  perfusing the muscle mass.They can be anatomicaly patent , physiologically non patent .They can be recruited by hemodynamic stress . It is also influenzed by  favirable growth milleu and hormonal and neural stimuli.

What determines the extent of these invisible circulation ?

and

An in vitro heart with special catheters showing the true extent of coronary circulation: Courtesy http://eurheartj.oxfordjournals.org/content/28/3/278.full.pdf+html

Why many cardiologists   do not give due credit  the   coronary collateral  circulation  ?

Right from the days  of  Levine in 1970s ( Who made a seminal contribution  about coronary collateral)   the  utility value of  coronary  collateral  circulation   was  never able to convince the cardiology professionals .

It has been our traditional  teaching ( without much evidence of course  !) coronary collateral circulation  is not effective to support blood flow during exercise . This fact has been  disproved  many times . Coronary collateral circulation was indeed useful in limiting damage in ACS and  relieve symptoms in stable angina.It helps  in reverse remodeling and provided electrical stabilty as well in post MI population.

Still  the concept  was  alienated  and   made   totally irrelevant  in the interventional  era  . Many   cardiologists  found well-developed collateral’s as an interference to their expertise and ego since it has a potential to alter the indication of PCI.They  continue to have  strong  scientific conviction (Pseudo ?)   that man made collaterals must always been superior to God made collaterals !

Whenever  some credible  reports emerge about  collateral circulation   being   equivalent to  revascularisation procedure , these concepts were  prematurely buried for some reason.

In the last decade there was a concern  about  performing  PCI in patients with well-developed collaterals  .The argument was , they tend to develop early stent occlusion and restenosis . It  was a genuine  query  raised by few thought leaders in the field as  collateralised vessels  suffer from  low flow states  after PCI ,   if the pre -existing collateral continue to function.

But then , few  studies countered this  , and   said PCI  is safe and  in fact may  fares well   in  patients  with  extensive collaterals .

In these  studies  interventionist’s  argument looked  amusing !  as they  seem to  define a  successful  PCI  as  not only to open the occluded vessel  but also  make sure to close  all functioning  collaterals  .(What a  a pity for our natural biological  angiogenic forces which had  worked  and  grown meticulously for months!)

Cardiac science in the current format,  makes   the future look  bleak for coronary a collateral circulation .With  early PCI  becoming a norm we will never ever allow the natural collaterals to  grow  ,  and even the  established collaterals  will have to face a stiff   fight  for survival  with  sophisticated coronary interventions .

Competing interest in the filed of  coronary collateral   research

While the basic scientists want  to  grow collaterals with angiogenesis ,  stem cells etc  interventionists   continue to  indulge in rampant angioplasties which  will suppress  collateral growth.

This implies we will struggle to  establish  the true  importance of  coronary collateral circulation .

Final message

Can it be an  effective form of revascularisation  ? 

My personal  inference  is   coronary collateral  circulation  “would and should”  have  a definite role  in at- least  some of the subsets  with chronic coronary  syndromes. If we think otherwise . . .    it’s against the principle of  natural biological science .

A good  collateral   system with optimal medical management  can save not only our  patient’s  lives but also  their hard earned currencies !

Reference

Here is a rare article in European heart   journal that discuses coronary collateral circulation  . Let us welcome such wonderful  reviews which keep the interest alive on the filed.


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