Also known as coronary thrombosis, a heart attack mostly happens because of coronary heart disease. However, emotions may play a role in the life or death situation arising.
Have you heard of a coronary artery spasm? The Department of Health and Human Services state this can lead to a heart attack.
It may not be too common, but a severe spasm (i.e.) tightening of a coronary artery cuts off the blood flow to the heart.
It differs from coronary artery disease – a condition whereby plaque builds up in the artery walls.
In coronary artery disease, the waxy substance (plaque) builds up over a number of years in a process known as atherosclerosis.
Eventually, an area of the plaque can rupture inside of an artery, causing a blood clot to form on the plaque’s surface.
If the clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block blood flow through the coronary artery.
Any heart muscle damaged will be scarred, which can cause severe and long-lasting problems.
A coronary artery spasm, on the other hand, can occur in coronary arteries not affected by atherosclerosis.
This type of spasm could be related to “emotional stress or pain”, so yes, feeling this way can lead to a heart attack.
Other related causes could be exposure to extreme cold, cigarette smoking and taking certain drugs, such as cocaine.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) named coronary artery spasm as “variant angina” or “Ptinzmetal angina”.
The “under-diagnosed condition” causes chest pain and tightness, which may also spread to the arm or jaw.
These symptoms can appear spontaneously, and in some cases can be linked to the menstrual cycle.
This condition is caused by a spasm of the muscle layer in the wall of the blood vessel.
How is coronary artery spasm diagnosed?
An angiogram is used to give an X-ray image of the heart arteries, while a doctor injects acetylcholine – a chemical used to relax (dilate) blood vessels.
If the blood vessel constrict instead (vasospasm), the doctors can diagnose coronary artery spasm.
What causes it?
Chemicals within the body causes blood vessels to tighten and relax in the body.
Stress can cause constriction of the coronary arteries if there is too much “tightening chemicals” and not enough “relaxing chemicals”.
The spasm may also be linked to areas of inflammation within the blood vessel wall.
Treatment involves medication, such as verapamil or diltiazem – known as calcium channel blockers.
These work by inhibiting calcium from being absorbed into the muscle cells of the blood vessels.
In turn, this helps to relax the blood vessels. Alternative medication may include ACE inhibitors and statins.
For more detail on this condition and the limited support available, visit the BHF website.
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