Harvard Heart Letter

Coronary artery vasospasm

Vasospasm is a sudden narrowing of an artery, caused by a chemical imbalance, that can feel like a heart attack. It can disrupt the heart's rhythm or trigger a heart attack in a person with clogged arteries or a weak heart. If you have had episodes of chest pain but have been told your arteries are clear, you could have overly sensitive coronary arteries that spasm under certain conditions. Ask your doctor if a test to provoke vasospasm is right for you. It is done by injecting into the coronary arteries a medication such as ergonovine or acetylcholine that can make sensitive arteries constrict. If the test induces vasospasm, taking a calcium-channel blocker or long-acting nitrate could help prevent future episodes.
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