Coronary Artery Spasm: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Complications

What is a Coronary Artery Spasm?

Coronary artery spasm is a condition in which there is a sudden tightening of the muscles within the arteries of the heart. It leads to narrowing of the arteries preventing the blood flow to the heart. During a spasm, the heart is forced to work harder to pump blood to the affected area.

The coronary artery spasm is brief and temporary, it lasts for only a few minutes to 30 minutes or more. It occurs mostly when the patient is resting rather than exercising as in other heart conditions.

What is a Coronary Artery Spasm?

Coronary artery spasm can lead to heart complications such as heart attack.

This condition tends to impact females more than males and younger people are affected more with the condition.

Causes of Coronary Artery Spasm

The most common risk factor of coronary artery spasm is smoking. Other potential cause might include:

High blood pressure and high blood cholesterol increase the risk of arterial constriction. Exposure to triggers can increase the risk of future coronary artery spasm.

Symptoms of Coronary Artery Spasm

Most of the time the symptoms of coronary artery spasm go undiagnosed as the symptoms are not noticeable.

The contraction can be dangerous as they may eventually cause a heart attack. Therefore even if slightest of the symptom is observed, the doctor should be consulted.

The common symptoms of coronary artery spasm are:

  • Chest pain or angina
  • A sense of chest tightness
  • Constricted feeling in the chest
  • There is a pain in the chest on the left side
  • The pain may extend from chest to arms, neck and jaw bone.

Coronary artery spasm can be suspected if the chest pain occurs only at rest, lasts for a few minutes, or occur most often at night or early in the morning.

How is Coronary Artery Spasm Diagnosed?

Coronary artery spasm is a potential problem of the heart, which can be diagnosed with a variety of imaging test. The images help put together the picture of the heart and decide on a treatment plan.

These tests are important as they give the doctor the details required to make an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment Option For Coronary Artery Spasm

  • The main focus of the treatment is to relieve the chest pain.
  • Nitrates are given as they help dilate the arteries and relax artery walls. It can be used as a long term medication or can also be used when required.
  • L-arginine is a dietary supplement which can help prevent spasm.
  • Calcium channel blockers relax the muscle of the arteries and reduce chest tightness.

The patient is asked to eat a low-fat and low-sodium diet. A lifestyle change is advised to reduce the chance of getting further coronary artery spasm.

Complications of Coronary Artery Spasm

If not treated coronary artery spasms can lead to lasting consequences such as:

  • Heart arrhythmias in which the heart beats either too fast or too slow.
  • Heart attack which can occur when there is complete blockage of the blood flow to the heart.
  • Cardiac arrest can occur when the heart stops beating suddenly as the blood flowing to the brain stops.
  • Death

Early diagnosis and treatment of coronary artery spasm have a good prognosis. This increases the chances of long term survival. The risk of coronary artery spasm can be lowered by preventing atherosclerosis. This involves eating a balanced and healthy diet which is low in fat and sodium. Regular exercise also plays a role in preventing coronary artery spasm.