Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
195 Little Albany Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08903-2681
If you have acute coronary syndrome, you have one or more conditions caused by a blockage of blood flow to your heart muscle.
This is a medical emergency because you may be having a heart attack, a condition in which your heart muscle begins to die.
Your heart is a muscular organ that pumps blood containing the oxygen and nutrients your body needs.
The main pumping chamber of your heart is the left ventricle.
When your left ventricle contracts, it sends oxygen-rich blood to your body through a large artery called the aorta.
Connected to your aorta are small arteries, called coronary arteries.
Blood flows from your aorta through the coronary arteries to supply your heart muscle with oxygen and nutrients.
If you have acute coronary syndrome, blood flow through your coronary arteries is severely reduced or completely blocked.
One possible cause of reduced blood flow is atherosclerosis.
In this condition, a build up of a fatty substance, called plaque, can narrow your coronary arteries.
If this plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form and block the artery.
A blood clot is the most common cause of coronary artery blockage.
Other less common causes of reduced blood flow include coronary artery spasm or dissection.
In a coronary artery spasm, triggers such as drugs, smoking, cold weather, and extreme stress or emotions
can cause a temporary and sudden tightening of a coronary artery.
During a coronary artery dissection, the inside wall of one of your coronary arteries separates, which can block blood flow.
Regardless of the cause, a blockage in either coronary artery prevents the oxygen and nutrients in your blood
from reaching the part of your heart supplied by the artery.
As a result, heart muscle in that area starts to die.
Death of part of your heart muscle is called a heart attack.
It’s also known as a myocardial infarction, or MI.
A blocked coronary artery may also cause you to feel sudden pain, discomfort, tightening,
or a burning sensation in your chest, called angina.
This pain may extend to your upper abdomen, shoulders, arms, neck, and lower jaw.
If you have angina when you’re at rest, or frequent angina that prevents even moderate physical activity,
you have unstable angina, which is the main symptom of acute coronary syndrome.
Other symptoms of acute coronary syndrome include
shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, and sweating.
If you’ve had a heart attack, or have other types of acute coronary syndrome,
your doctor may prescribe oxygen therapy to get more oxygen into your blood.
You may take aspirin or other prescription blood thinner drugs to prevent blood clots.
Thrombolytics, also known as clot-buster drugs, may be used to break up any existing blood clots.
Drugs such as nitroglycerin and morphine will relax your coronary arteries and relieve the pain of angina.
You may also receive drugs called beta-blockers that slow down your heart and reduce its need for oxygen.
Your doctor may also recommend immediate surgical procedures, such as coronary angioplasty,
in which a balloon-tipped catheter inflates inside your blocked coronary artery to open it.
After inflating, the balloon catheter may leave behind a mesh-like device, called a stent, to hold your artery open.
Or, you may have a coronary artery bypass graft, or CABG.
CABG is a surgical procedure in which the blocked areas of the coronary arteries are bypassed with veins or artificial graft material.
Seek treatment immediately if you have the symptoms of acute coronary syndrome.