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 an artery that sends blood to the heart. A spasm can reduce or 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. 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
- Statins, which lower cholesterol and may prevent spasms
If coronary artery spasms result in a dangerously fast heartbeat (ventricular arrhythmia), your health care provider may recommend an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). An ICD uses electric impulses to restore a regular heart rhythm and prevent sudden cardiac death.
If you're having sudden chest pain, call 911 or emergency medical help immediately.
Aug. 26, 2022
From Mayo Clinic to your inbox
Sign up for free and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips, current health topics, and expertise on managing health. Click here for an email preview.
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which
information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with
other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could
include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected
health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health
information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of
privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on
the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
Thank you for subscribing!
You'll soon start receiving the latest Mayo Clinic health information you requested in your inbox.
Sorry something went wrong with your subscription
Please, try again in a couple of minutes
See more Expert Answers
- Picard F, et al. Vasospastic angina: A literature review of current evidence. Archives of Cardiovascular Diseases. 2019; doi:10.1016/j.acvd.2018.08.002.
- Libby P, et al., eds. Non-ST elevation acute coronary syndromes. In: Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 12th ed. Elsevier; 2022. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed July 6, 2022.
- Pinto DS, et al. Vasospastic angina. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed July 6, 2022.
- Mankad R (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Oct. 5, 2018