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Vascular spasm

Definition

A vascular spasm is a sudden, brief tightening of the muscle cells inside the walls of a blood vessel.

Causes

The brief tightening of muscle cells inside the walls of a blood vessel cause the blood vessel to close or narrow significantly. This stops blood flow.

Vascular spasms (and heart attacks) may be caused by the use of cocaine, as a result of tobacco, or by irritation of the vessel from the inside (for example, by a catheter) or outside (from a nearby injury or tear).

Symptoms

Vascular spasms temporary limit blood flow to tissue supplied by that vessel. The most common symptom is pain. Other symptoms are caused by lack of proper blood flow and will vary depending on the specific organ affected:

When the spasm affects circulation in an arm or leg, you may have the following symptoms:

  • Pallor
  • Senation of cold in the arm or leg
  • Problems with limb function and movement

When the spasm affects blood flow in the heart, symptoms may include:

  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Chest pain and symptoms similar to a heart attack

Other names for chest pain resulting from vascular spasm are Prinzmetal's angina and variant angina.

If the spasm affects a blood vessel to the brain, stroke-like symptoms or migraines can occur.

Exams and Tests

The doctor will perform a physical exam. Tests vary and depend on your symptoms and the part of the body affected.

Treatment

Symptoms can sometimes be relieved by the use of medications that help relax the blood vessels or avoiding substances (such as cocaine) that cause the spasms.


Review Date: 9/3/2008
Reviewed By: Larry A. Weinrauch MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Cardiovascular Disease and Clinical Outcomes Research, Watertown, MA.. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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