A coronary artery spasm is defined as a sudden tightening of the muscles in the arteries in your heart.
When this happens, your arteries have narrowed, which will keep blood from flowing naturally into your heart.
These are very temporary and brief- but can lead to some more serious complications in the future- such as a heart attack.
If you have other conditions that can have an effect on your heart health such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you are much more likely to have coronary artery spasms.
Another name for these coronary artery spasms is coronary artery contractions.
Symptoms of Coronary Artery Spasms
In most cases, coronary artery spasms are never diagnosed because they typically do not cause noticeable symptoms.
This means that these can be quite dangerous because they can eventually lead to a heart attack.
In some cases, you may have occasional chest pain. In addition, you may notice other symptoms of coronary artery contractions such as the following:
- Pain on the left side of your chest
- Tightness in the chest
- Chest pain/angina
- Feeling of constriction
In addition, the pain you feel may spread from your chest to your jawbone, neck, and arms.
If your chest pain occurs during the following activities, you may suspect that you have coronary artery spasms:
- Lasts from 5 to 30 minutes
- During the night or early in the morning
Causes of Coronary Artery Spasms
Some of the most common causes of this condition are high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Around two percent of individuals with chest pressure and/or pain, also known as angina, also experience these spasms.
Finally, these spasms can occur in those individuals with the condition of atherosclerosis, which is a condition that occurs when plaque builds up inside of your arteries, which blocks the flow of blood.
Risk Factors of Coronary Artery Spasms
If you have an increased risk of developing heart disease, you also have an increased risk of experiencing coronary artery spasms.
In addition, you should be aware that high cholesterol and high blood pressure, you are at an increased risk of developing arterial constriction.
Some of the other activities that can increase your risk of developing coronary artery spasms include the following:
- Use of stimulants
- Extreme stress
- Withdrawal from alcohol
- Extreme cold
If you have a history of coronary artery spasms, you should do whatever you can to decrease these risk factors, as exposure to them can increase your risk of experiencing spasms in the future.
Diagnosing Coronary Artery Spasms
If you experience a coronary artery spasm, you should be aware that this indicates that there is potentially a much more serious problem in your heart.
Therefore, your physician will order a variety of tests which will provide a much clearer picture of your heart and assist your physician in putting together an effective treatment plan. Following are a few of the diagnostic tests that might be used:
- Electrocardiogram, or EKG: this is a test that measures your heart’s electrical activity.
- Coronary angiography: this is a special x-ray that uses dye to check the inside of your arteries and measures the flow of blood through your heart.
- Echocardiogram: this is a test that uses ultrasound waves to take pictures of your heart.
Since there are many different heart conditions, these tests can be helpful because they give your physician the information he or she needs to make a correct diagnosis.
Once your physician has determined the issues with your heart, he or she will be able to create an effective treatment plan.
Treatment of a Coronary Artery Spasm
When it comes to treating coronary artery spasms, the primary focus is on relieving chest pain, which involves prescription medications as follows:
- L-arginine: this is a dietary supplement that can help prevent the spasms.
- Nitrates: this medication can help to relax your artery walls and dilate your arteries. This medication can be used as needed in case you have another spasm or can be used as a long-term daily medication.
- Calcium Channel Blockers: this medication can help to relieve tightness in our chest by relaxing the artery muscles and can be used on a long-term basis.
In addition to the above, your physician may recommend that you take medications that can help to reduce your conditions of high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol. Taking these medications can help to prevent a heart attack or another spasm.
When you are undergoing these treatment options, you should make sure that you are eating a low-sodium, low-fat diet. In addition, if you smoke, you should quit.
These healthy changes in your lifestyle can help to further decrease your chances of experiencing more coronary artery spasms in the future.
Complications of Coronary Artery Spasms
A coronary artery spasm is a temporary event, that can have some lasting consequences.
When you leave them untreated, a coronary artery spasm can happen much more often and can eventually lead to the following:
- Heart attacks: this occurs when there is a blockage of the flow of blood to your heart.
- Heart arrhythmias: this occurs when your heart is beating much too fast or much too slow.
- Cardiac arrest: this occurs when your heart stops beating because blood is not flowing to your brain.
When left untreated, these coronary artery spasms can result in death. Typically, coronary artery spasms are considered to be long-term, chronic conditions.
This is because the condition will never go away on its own and will continue if not treated.
However, if you avoid the triggers and follow the treatment plan outlined by your physician, the outlook is good.
Preventing Coronary Artery Spasms
Your risk of coronary artery spasms can be decreased if you prevent the condition of atherosclerosis.
This can be done by exercising on a regular basis, quitting smoking, and eating a low-fat diet.
In addition, you can reduce your chances of these spasms by avoiding triggers and always follow your physician’s advice to prevent other complications.