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Angina - Topic Overview

Angina caused by coronary artery spasms

Less common types of angina are caused by coronary artery spasms. This angina happens when a coronary artery suddenly contracts (spasms), reducing oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart. If severe, a spasm can block blood flow and cause a heart attack. Most people who have these spasms have coronary artery disease, though they don't always have plaque in their arteries. Cocaine can cause coronary artery spasm and heart attack, but in most cases it is not known what triggers the spasms.

Variant angina, also called Prinzmetal's angina or vasospastic angina, is also caused by coronary artery spasm. But it has a distinctive pattern. It usually occurs when you are at rest, and there is no clear cause. It occurs more often at night, in the early morning hours, or at the same time of the day. The spasm often occurs where plaque has narrowed the coronary artery, but it can also occur in healthy coronary arteries. Variant angina episodes typically last 2 to 5 minutes and quickly subside with nitroglycerin.

How do you manage stable angina?

Most people who have stable angina can control their symptoms by taking medicines as prescribed and nitroglycerin when needed.

For tips on managing angina see:

Quick Tips: Taking Charge of Your Angina.
Using Nitroglycerin for Angina.

What makes symptoms worse?

Other health problems, such as fever or infection, anemia, or other heart problems, can make your angina symptoms worse. They may also cause unstable angina.

Angina may get worse when another condition:

  • Forces your heart to work harder, which increases the amount of oxygen it needs.
  • Decreases the amount of oxygen the heart receives.

In either case, there is an imbalance between the amount of oxygen that your heart needs and the amount that it receives through the blood supply from your coronary arteries. If your heart can't get enough oxygen, your symptoms of stable angina may get worse.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 13, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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