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Coronary Artery Spasm

What is a coronary artery spasm?

Coronary artery spasm is a sudden and temporary narrowing or tightening of a small part of a coronary artery. (The coronary arteries are the arteries that bring blood to the heart.) When the spasm happens, your heart temporarily does not get enough oxygen and you feel a type of chest pain called angina.

This type of chest pain may also be called Prinzmetal's angina, atypical angina, or variant angina.

What is the cause?

Doctors don’t know why the spasms happen.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of coronary artery spasm include:

  • Chest pain that feels like a strangling or heavy pressure on the chest
  • Pain that starts in the chest and spreads to the throat, arms (usually the left arm), jaws, and between the shoulder blades. The pain can also spread to the stomach and feel like an ulcer or indigestion.
  • A feeling of tightness or heaviness in the chest
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness
  • Trouble breathing

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may have an ECG (electrocardiogram, also called an EKG). An ECG measures and records your heartbeat. The recording may show certain changes when you have pain. You may wear a small, portable ECG recorder called a Holter monitor to record your heart rhythm for 1 to 3 days.

You may also need a stress or treadmill ECG. During this type of ECG, the activity of your heart is recorded while you exercise on a stationary bike or treadmill.

You may need a coronary angiogram. This special X-ray uses a thin, flexible tube put into a large vein to measure the narrowing of blood vessels and to find blockages in the blood vessels. Sometimes it can show areas of spasm. During the test, medicine may be injected into your arteries to start a spasm.

How is it treated?

The goal of treatment is to prevent or control symptoms. You and your healthcare provider will develop a treatment plan that includes:

  • Stopping the use of drugs that cause coronary artery spasm
  • Stopping smoking if you are a smoker
  • Taking medicine to help prevent spasm
  • Reviewing your lifestyle and habits to reduce your risk for heart disease
  • Having frequent follow-up appointments to check your progress

How can I take care of myself?

To help take care of yourself:

  • Avoid using drugs that cause spasms.
  • Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Take your medicine as directed by your healthcare provider.
  • Learn how anxiety and stress affect you. Learn ways to cope with stress.

Follow your healthcare provider's instructions. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent coronary artery spasm?

Because the cause of coronary artery spasm is not understood, doctors don’t know how to prevent it. However, you can limit your risk of problems from coronary artery spasm by lowering your risk for heart disease with a heart-healthy lifestyle:

  • Eat a healthy diet and keep a healthy weight.
  • Stay fit with the right kind of exercise for you.
  • Decrease stress.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Limit your use of alcohol.

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Published by RelayHealth.
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