Harvard Heart Letter

Coronary artery vasospasm

A sudden spasm of the coronary arteries can feel like a heart attack.

Variant angina. Coronary syndrome X. Prinzmetal's angina. All have this in common: a sudden constriction of coronary arteries that feels like a heart attack, but isn't.

Vasospasm is the sudden narrowing of a blood vessel, usually an artery. It happens when the muscles within the vessel's wall quickly contract and stay that way. Vasospasm can occur anywhere in the body. It is part of the process that causes migraines and some strokes. In the fingers and toes, it is responsible for Raynaud's phenomenon. In the coronary arteries, which supply the hardworking heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood, a sudden constriction of one or more vessels can reduce blood flow to part of the heart.

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