Assessing the coronary circulation in hypertension

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Systemic arterial hypertension is one of the major risk factors for coronary artery disease, coronary microangiopathy, and left ventricular hypertrophy, all of which can potentially lead to cardiac failure and sudden cardiac death. Coronary flow reserve is defined as the maximal increase in coronary flow above its resting, autoregulated level for a given perfusion pressure. In arterial hypertension functional and structural alterations are observed at the level of epicardial vessels as well as in resistive vessels requiring sophisticated approaches to assess coronary flow reserve and thus myocardial perfusion. Electrocardiographic tests and echocardiography can be regarded as monitoring and screening methods. Myocardial scintography is useful to semiquantitatively estimate hypertension-associated perfusion abnormalities, whereas positron emission tomography provides the only quantitative approach of a non-invasive technique for myocardial blood flow measurement. Invasive methods for the assessment of coronary blood flow need cardiac catheterization procedures, such as techniques requiring catheterization of the coronary sinus, angiographic methods, and guide-wire based methods. Thermodilution and venous oxymetry in the coronary sinus systematically underestimate coronary flow reserve and are thus considered as only semiquantitative approaches. In contrast, the gas chromatographic argon method allows a quantitative measurement of coronary blood flow at baseline and during maximum vasodilation; thus it is possible to distinguish between an altered autoregulated and maximal flow as the major cause of a reduced coronary flow reserve and to evaluate long-term therapeutic interventions in hypertensive hearts. Videodensitometric and angiographic methods should be restricted only to patients with coronary microangiopathy or with coronary single-vessel disease. Guidewire-based Doppler techniques are suitable to semiquantitatively assess coronary flow reserve with a considerable spatial and time resolution. Myocardial biopsies may gain insight into hypertension-associated structural alterations in small arterioles. Long-term treatment of hypertensive heart disease aims to normalize blood pressure, to reduce left ventricular hypertrophy and to achieve cardioreparation including reversal of the abnormal structure and function of coronary circulation. Based on the different methods for assessment of coronary circulation the therapeutic value of different classes of antihypertensive therapeutics will be evaluated in this overview.

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