Coronary Artery Spasm | Risks, Triggers & Treatment | MedStar Health

Painful sudden tightening in the chest, often while at rest or sleeping

Coronary artery spasm occurs when the muscles within an artery that supplies blood to the heart suddenly tighten. This restricts blood flow to your heart muscles and can cause severe chest pain. These spasms typically occur while you are at rest or sleeping, but also can happen while you are active. Many people experience fainting with angina.

A spasm episode typically lasts less than 15 minutes and may be accompanied by an irregular heartbeat known as an arrhythmia. A prolonged spasm can trigger a heart attack.

Risks

These spasms can occur even if you do not have any additional heart conditions. However, most people who experience this also have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or coronary artery disease.

Triggers

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Chronic allergic conditions
  • Low magnesium
  • Menstrual cycles
  • Smoking
  • Spasms in other arteries
  • Thyrotoxicosis, an excessive amount of circulating thyroid hormone

Tests

To diagnose this condition, your doctor may use an electrocardiogram (ECG) or other diagnostic tests to monitor your heart’s electrical impulses.

Stress Tests
Stress tests are used to assess how your heart works during physical activity. There are several types of stress tests, including treadmill or bike stress tests, nuclear stress tests, stress echocardiograms, and chemically induced stress tests.

Treatments

Treatments for coronary artery spasms focus on controlling chest pain, preventing heart attack, and decreasing future episodes. Your doctor will determine an individualized treatment plan that may include lifestyle modifications, medication, or more advanced treatments.

Read our Cardiovascular Performance & Outcomes Booklet

Ask MHVI

Have questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net.