What is a coronary artery spasm?

Answer From Rekha Mankad, M.D.

A coronary artery spasm is a temporary tightening (constriction) of the muscles in the wall of one of the arteries that sends blood to your heart. A spasm can decrease or completely block blood flow to part of the heart.

If a spasm lasts long enough, you can have chest pain (angina) and even a heart attack (myocardial infarction). Unlike typical angina, which usually occurs with physical activity, coronary artery spasms often occur at rest, typically between midnight and early morning.

Other names for coronary artery spasms are Prinzmetal's angina, vasospastic angina or variant angina.

Many people who have coronary artery spasms don't have common risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. But they're often smokers. You can reduce your risk of coronary artery spasms by quitting smoking.

Coronary artery spasms may be triggered by:

  • Tobacco use
  • Exposure to cold
  • Extreme emotional stress
  • Use of illegal stimulant drugs, such as amphetamines and cocaine

Treatment of coronary artery spasms may include medications such as:

  • Nitrates, which are used to prevent spasms and quickly relieve chest pain as it occurs
  • Calcium channel blockers, which relax the arteries and decrease the spasm
  • Statin medications, which not only lower cholesterol but also may prevent spasms

If coronary artery spasms result in a dangerously fast heartbeat (ventricular arrhythmia), your doctor may recommend an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). An ICD uses electric impulses to restore a normal heartbeat and prevent sudden cardiac death.

If you're having sudden chest pain, call 911 or emergency medical help immediately.

With

Rekha Mankad, M.D.

Jan. 09, 2019 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. Acute coronary syndrome
  2. Angina
  3. Angina treatment: Stents, drugs, lifestyle changes — What's best?
  4. Anxiety disorders
  5. Arm pain
  6. Back pain
  7. Barriers to fitness
  8. Blood tests for heart disease
  9. Fact or Fiction? Debunking Exercise & Nutrition Myths for Preventing Heart Disease and Risk Factors
  10. Healthy Heart Numbers
  11. Heart disease in women
  12. Sports Cardiology Program
  13. Can vitamins help prevent a heart attack?
  14. Chelation therapy for heart disease: Does it work?
  15. Chest X-rays
  16. Coping with job stress
  17. Coronary angiogram
  18. Coronary artery disease
  19. Coronary artery disease: Angioplasty or bypass surgery?
  20. Coronary bypass surgery
  21. CT scan
  22. CT scans: Are they safe?
  23. Daily aspirin therapy
  24. Dizziness
  25. Drug-eluting stents
  26. ECG at Mayo Clinic
  27. Echocardiogram
  28. Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  29. Esophageal spasms
  30. Fasting diet: Can it improve my heart health?
  31. Fatigue
  32. Fitness program
  33. Flu shots and heart disease
  34. Four Steps to Heart Health
  35. Getting active after acute coronary syndrome
  36. Grass-fed beef
  37. Healthy Heart for Life!
  38. Healthy heart for life: Avoiding heart disease
  39. Heart disease
  40. Heart disease in women: Understand symptoms and risk factors
  41. Slide show: Heart-healthy eating after acute coronary syndrome
  42. Menus for heart-healthy eating
  43. Myocardial ischemia
  44. Nausea and vomiting
  45. Neck pain
  46. Nuclear stress test
  47. Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health
  48. Omega-3 in fish
  49. Omega-6 fatty acids
  50. Polypill: Does it treat heart disease?
  51. Put fish on the menu
  52. Quit-smoking strategies
  53. Tobacco cravings
  54. Red wine, antioxidants and resveratrol
  55. Shortness of breath
  56. Shoulder pain
  57. Heart disease prevention
  58. Stress management
  59. Sources of stress
  60. Stress test
  61. Sweating and body odor
  62. Unexplained weight loss
  63. Coronary angioplasty
  64. Video: Heart and circulatory system
  65. Weight-loss goals
  66. Weight-loss readiness
  67. Whole grains
  68. Wiiitis
  69. Infographic: Women and Heart Disease