First Time User? Enroll now.
Appointments - We are seeing patients. Get full details.
Visitors - As the COVID-19 situation has evolved, our policy is evolving as well. Get full details.
Home > Fitness & Health > Health Library > Acute Coronary Syndrome
Acute coronary syndrome is an emergency. It happens when the heart is not getting enough blood.
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 unstable angina or a heart attack.
Any type of acute coronary syndrome needs to be treated right away.
Acute coronary syndrome happens because blood flow has slowed or stopped in the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. It's most often caused by coronary artery disease (sometimes called heart disease).
Coronary artery disease is caused by atherosclerosis (sometimes called hardening of the arteries).
With atherosclerosis, a substance called plaque builds up in the coronary arteries. Plaque leads to angina by making the arteries more narrow. This narrowing limits blood flow to the heart muscle. A heart attack happens when blood flow is completely blocked.
Symptoms of acute coronary syndrome include:
For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms, like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.
People also describe the symptoms as discomfort, pressure, squeezing, or heaviness in the chest. The pain may spread down the left shoulder and arm and to other areas.
People with unstable angina often describe their symptoms as different from their typical pattern of stable angina. For example, symptoms might happen when they're at rest and they're not using much energy or feeling stressed.
A doctor will do a physical exam and ask about your symptoms and past health. He or she will also ask about your family's health. You'll have several tests to find what is causing your symptoms.
An electrocardiogram can help show whether you have angina or have had a heart attack. This test measures the electrical signals that control your heart's rhythm.
A blood test will look for a rise in cardiac proteins. The heart releases these substances when it's damaged.
In some cases, the doctor might do a test called a cardiac perfusion scan. It checks to see if your heart is getting enough blood. It also can check for areas of damage after a heart attack.
If you call 911, treatment will start in the ambulance. You may be given aspirin and other medicines.
In the hospital, the doctor will work right away to return blood flow to your heart. You may be given:
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.
When you get out of the hospital, you will keep taking medicines that lower your risk for a heart attack. These may include:
A heart-healthy lifestyle also helps lower your chance of a heart attack. This lifestyle includes taking steps to quit smoking, eat heart-healthy foods, get regular exercise, and stay at a healthy weight. Manage other health problems such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Also, if you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drug use, talk with your doctor.
Talk to your doctor about trying a cardiac rehab program. Ask your doctor if it is right for you. In cardiac rehab, you get education and support that help you make new, healthy habits. For example, it can help you find ways to eat a healthy diet and get more exercise.
A heart-healthy lifestyle and medicine can help prevent acute coronary syndrome. This includes being active, staying at a healthy weight, not smoking, and eating heart-healthy foods. Managing other health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, can also help.
Current as of:
August 31, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Rakesh K. Pai MD, FACC - Cardiology, ElectrophysiologyE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineGeorge Philippides MD - Cardiology
Current as of: August 31, 2020
Author: 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
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.