Coronary artery spasm (Prinzmetal’s angina) is a type of angina that occurs at rest. It’s brought on by a spasm in the coronary artery, causing temporary narrowing of the artery. Although it can be relieved with medications, it is still a very severe condition. On an electrocardiogram, Prinzmetal’s angina—also called variant angina—appears with episodes of ST elevations.
Angina is characterized by tightness in the chest and chest pain because of reduced blood flow to the heart. Angina is not a disease on its own, but rather a symptom of coronary artery disease. Patients may experience tightness, pain, squeezing, pressure, or heaviness in the chest. For some, angina can be sudden, while in others, it can be a chronic condition.
Aside from variant angina, there is also stable angina and unstable angina. Stable angina is triggered by physical or emotional exertion. In unstable angina, plaque in the blood vessels ruptures or forms a blood clot, reducing or blocking blood flow. Unstable angina is not relieved by common medications, rather, it requires emergency treatment.
It’s important that angina is properly diagnosed and well managed to reduce the risk of complications and death.
A coronary artery spasm is a temporary constriction of the muscles in the artery walls. When this occurs, blood flow becomes restricted, resulting in symptoms. A coronary artery spasm can decrease the amount of blood flowing through the artery or blocking the passageway altogether.
If a coronary artery spasm lasts for an extended period, it can result in angina or even a heart attack. Unlike stable angina, which is triggered by physical exertion, variant angina occurs while at rest, usually between the hours of midnight and early morning.
The most common causes of coronary artery spasm are high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Nearly two percent of angina patients experience coronary artery spasm daily. Coronary artery spasms can also occur in patients with atherosclerosis, which is a condition characterized by narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup and resulting blood flow reduction.
Risk factors for coronary artery spasm include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, smoking, excess use of stimulants like illicit drugs, extreme stress, extreme cold, and alcohol withdrawal.
Although episodes of coronary artery spasm may be brief, they can lead to future health complications. If variant angina is left untreated, it can contribute to heart arrhythmias, heart attacks, cardiac arrest, and even death.
Symptoms of Prinzmetal’s angina include chest pain varying in severity, pain in the left side of your chest, chest tightness, and a feeling of constriction in the chest. Other symptoms may accompany coronary artery spasms, such as pain radiating from the chest to the neck, shoulders, or jaw, and pain that only occurs while at rest.
Aside from a physical examination, your doctor will run other tests to better diagnose variant angina. These tests include:
Pain relief is the target of coronary artery spasm treatment.. Your doctor may put you on medications to reduce your risk of variant angina, including medications for high blood pressure.
Additionally, your doctor will recommend you adhere to a healthy lifestyle that involves healthy eating, exercising regularly, losing weight, not smoking, reducing your intake of alcohol, and reducing stress.
An experienced doctor should treat Prinzmetal’s angina because it’s a very serious condition. However, there are actions you can take to help manage the symptoms.