What is a Coronary Spasm?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 June 2019
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Also known as a coronary artery spasm, a coronary spasm is a quick contraction of the muscles in the artery wall of the heart. While lasting for only a brief time, the spasm causes a temporary reduction in the blood through the coronary artery. This in turn causes chest pain, due to the smaller amount of oxygen that is reaching the heart.

It is important to note that it is not necessary to have a noticeable heart problem in order to experience a coronary spasm, nor to be actively involved in some type of strenuous physical activity. The sudden contraction in the artery wall can happen at any time, even when an individual is resting. Often, the episode passes quickly, but may leave behind a lingering pain that is somewhat like experiencing a bout of angina after a great deal of physical exertion.

There are several issues that increase the chances of experiencing a coronary spasm. The use of tobacco products is a common underlying cause. High levels of bad cholesterol can also trigger an episode. People with ongoing physical conditions such as lupus are also considered at a higher risk for developing this type of heart spasm. High blood pressure can also pave the way for a coronary spasm to occur.


Other factors can also lead to a coronary spasm. Extreme and sustained emotional duress may trigger a contraction. Sudden exposure to cold can also be the root cause for the episode. Some people experience a spasm as a reaction to different types of medication, or after abusing drugs like amphetamines or cocaine.

People who experience coronary spasms regularly can help manage the problem by making lifestyle and dietary changes that help to lower bad cholesterol levels. Regular exercise to help manage high blood pressure is important. Eliminating the use of tobacco products will also help minimize the chances for experiencing a coronary spasm.

In some cases, it may be necessary to manage the condition with the aid of prescription medication. A doctor can assess the severity of the condition and recommend the best course of treatment, based on the general health of the individual. There are several medications that help reduce the possibility of experiencing a coronary spasm, including calcium channel blockers, nitrates, and even l-arginine. Since some of these treatments can interact with other types of medications, it is important to make sure the attending physician is aware of any other drugs currently in use, as well as any underlying health issues that may need to be taken into account.


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