Top of the page Acute Coronary Syndrome Topic OverviewWhat is acute coronary syndrome? Acute coronary
syndrome happens when the heart is not getting enough blood. It is an emergency. It includes
unstable angina and
heart attack. The
coronary arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to the
heart muscle. If these arteries are narrowed or blocked, the heart does not get
enough oxygen. This can cause angina or a heart attack. Unstable angina happens when blood flow to the heart is suddenly slowed by narrowed coronary arteries. Or small blood clots form in the coronary arteries and slow blood flow. Typically, there is no damage to the heart muscle.
It often happens when you are at rest. You may have had
stable angina before. You knew when to expect your symptoms, such as when you exercised. Stable angina usually goes away
when you rest or take your angina medicine. But the symptoms of unstable angina may
not go away with rest or medicine. It may get worse or happen at times that it
didn’t before. Unstable angina symptoms may mean that you are having a heart attack. A heart attack means a coronary artery
has been blocked and the heart has been damaged. Without blood flow and oxygen,
part of the heart starts to die.Any type of acute coronary syndrome is very serious and
needs to be treated right away. What causes acute coronary syndrome? Acute
coronary syndrome happens because blood flow has slowed or stopped in the arteries that supply
blood to the heart. Acute coronary syndrome is typically caused by coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease, also called heart disease,
is caused by atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis causes a substance called plaque to build up in the coronary arteries. Plaque causes angina by narrowing the
arteries. The narrowing limits blood flow to the heart muscle. A heart attack happens when blood flow is completely blocked. What are the symptoms? Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if you have symptoms of acute coronary syndrome. These may include: Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest. Sweating. Shortness of breath. Nausea or vomiting. Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly, or in one or both shoulders or arms. Lightheadedness or sudden weakness. A fast or irregular heartbeat.After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself. How is acute coronary syndrome diagnosed? A doctor
will give you a physical exam and ask about your symptoms and past health. He
or she also will ask about your family’s health. You will have several tests to
find out what is causing your symptoms. An
electrocardiogram can show whether you have angina or
have had a heart attack. This test measures the electrical signals that control
your heart’s rhythm. Small pads or patches will be taped to your chest and other areas of
your body. They connect to a machine that traces the signals onto paper. The
doctor will look for certain changes on the graph to see if your heart is not
getting enough blood or if you are having a heart attack. A blood
test will look for a rise in cardiac enzymes. The heart releases these
substances when it is damaged. In some cases, you might have a
test called a cardiac perfusion scan to see if your heart is getting enough
blood. It also can be used to check for areas of damage after a heart
attack. How is it treated? If you call
911, treatment will start in the ambulance
with aspirin and other medicines. In the hospital, the doctor will
work right away to return blood flow to your heart. You may get medicines to break up and prevent blood clots. You may get nitroglycerin
and other medicines that make your arteries wider. This helps improve blood flow and relieve symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure. You also may get pain medicine and oxygen. Your test results will help your doctor decide about more treatment. You might have angioplasty or bypass surgery to improve blood flow to your heart. After you get out of the
hospital, you will continue to take medicines that lower your risk of a heart attack. Medicine may include beta-blockers, aspirin or other medicines to prevent blood clots, blood pressure medicine, and cholesterol medicine. Healthy
lifestyle changes also lower your chance of having a heart attack. Quitting
smoking, eating heart-healthy foods, getting regular
exercise, and staying at a healthy weight are important steps you can take. If your doctor has not set you up with a
cardiac rehab program, talk to him or her about whether that
is right for you. In cardiac rehab, you will get education and support that help you make new, healthy habits,
such as eating healthy food and getting more exercise. Can acute coronary syndrome be prevented? A heart-healthy lifestyle can help prevent heart disease, which can lead to acute coronary syndrome. If you already have heart disease, a heart-healthy lifestyle along with medicine can help prevent a heart attack. Eat a heart-healthy diet that has lots of fruit,
vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Stay at a healthy
weight. Lose weight if you need to. Be active. Your doctor can suggest a safe level of exercise for you. Don’t smoke. Manage other health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Lower your stress level. Stress can damage your heart.
Take a daily aspirin if your doctor advises it.
Other Places To Get HelpOrganizations
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (U.S.)
American Heart Association American College of Cardiology: CardioSmart Related InformationCoronary Artery Disease Heart Attack and Unstable AnginaReferencesOther Works Consulted Amsterdam EA, et al. (2014). 2014 AHA/ACC Guideline for the management of patients with non-ST-elevation acute coronary syndromes. Circulation, 130(25): e344–e426. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000134. Accessed October 24, 2014. Kim MC, et al. (2011). Definitions of acute coronary syndromes. In V Fuster et al., eds., Hurst’s the Heart, 13th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1287–1295. New York: McGraw-Hill. O’Connor RE, et al. (2010). Acute coronary syndromes: 2010 American Heart Association guidelines for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency cardiovascular care. Circulation, 122(18): S787–S817. Thygesen K, et al. (2012). Third universal definition of myocardial infarction. Circulation, 126(16): 2020–2035. Also available online: StaffPrimary Medical Reviewer Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC – Cardiology, Electrophysiology E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine Martin J. Gabica, MD – Family Medicine Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine Specialist Medical Reviewer George Philippides, MD – Cardiology Current as ofDecember 19, 2017 Top of PageNext Section:
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December 19, 2017Author:
Healthwise Staff Medical Review:
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC – Cardiology, Electrophysiology & E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine & Martin J. Gabica, MD – Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine & George Philippides, MD – Cardiology