Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: What is vasospastic angina?

Ask the doctor

What is vasospastic angina?

Q. I sometimes get excruciating chest pain out of the blue "" almost never when I am exercising or doing something physical "" that gradually goes away by itself. My doctor calls it vasospastic angina. Can you give me more information?

A. Your chest pain comes from sudden constrictions of a coronary artery. These spasms narrow the artery and temporarily stop blood flow to part of the heart. The pain you feel is the heart's response to lack of oxygen and nutrients and the buildup of waste products. It's akin to a muscle cramp in your leg, and is the same sensation felt by people with classic angina.

Vasospastic angina isn't rare. It affects up to 3 in 100 people who have an angiogram to look for a cause of their chest pain.

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