Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, affecting 1 in every 3 women per year? Women also face very different risks for heart disease compared to men.

That is why our team at the Magee-Womens Heart Program specializes in helping women understand the risks, symptoms, and treatment options for heart disease.

What Is Coronary Vasospasm?

Coronary vasospasm is the sudden narrowing of the coronary arteries—the blood vessels that supply oxygen to your heart. When the blood vessels constrict, the blood supply to the heart is quickly reduced or even blocked. In severe cases, this constriction can prevent oxygen-rich blood from reaching your heart, causing a heart attack.

Coronary vasospasm episodes can occur at any time and may last up to 30 minutes. These spasms also vary in frequency and are likely to return.

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Who Is at Risk for Coronary Vasospasm?

Coronary vasospasm can happen to anyone, but your overall heart health and lifestyle can be a factor. Smokers and people diagnosed with high cholesterol and high blood pressure are more likely to experience these episodes.

Risk for coronary vasospasm can be increased by:

  • Smoking.
  • Excessive alcohol intake.
  • Illicit drug use.
  • Weight-loss medications.
  • Hyperventilation (taking very quick, deep breaths).

The Signs and Symptoms

Coronary vasospasm can cause symptoms similar to a heart attack, including pain in your cheek, neck, and jaw, and pain that spreads to your left arm.

The most common symptom is angina, or chest discomfort due to a lack of blood to the heart. Angina may cause tightness or squeezing in the left side of your chest.

Signs of coronary vasospasm can be different for everyone. Women are less likely to experience the common symptoms and may not immediately recognize the condition. It’s important to have regular check-ups with your doctor to monitor your heart health and identify risks for heart conditions, such as coronary vasospasm.

Diagnosing Coronary Vasospasm

Our specialists at the Magee-Womens Heart Program are here to help you care for your heart and provide you with treatment options. We can perform a series of tests to determine if you have, or are at risk for, coronary vasospasm. Your doctor may perform a coronary angiogram to take images of your coronary arteries, which allows them to see if the blood flow to your heart is restricted.

Your doctor also may give you medications during this procedure to help confirm the diagnosis of coronary vasospasm. Additional testing may include:

  • Electrocardiogram.
  • Bloodwork to look for damage to the heart muscle.
  • Echocardiogram.

Treatment Options

Our team will work with you to develop a treatment plan that fits your individual needs. Your doctor most likely will prescribe medications, such as calcium channel blockers, nitroglycerin, and nitrates, to help expand your coronary arteries and reduce your risk for coronary vasospasm.

Your doctor will examine your health history and risk factors to recommend the best treatment options. They also will ensure that you are not taking any medications that could increase your chances for coronary vasospasm.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.

About UPMC Magee-Womens

Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.

Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.