Health Watch: Coronary Artery Spasms

BALTIMORE, Md. (KFSN) -- Prinzmetal angina is something many of us have probably never heard of before- it's not a heart attack- but it can cause serious damage to the heart muscle if not diagnosed and treated, and doctors are not sure exactly what causes it.

For Deb Utterbaugh even simple things, like a family card game are not something to take for granted.

Two years ago, Deb woke up feeling nauseous and knew something was terribly wrong.

Deb said, "I texted my husband. Who knows what I texted him, because he came running up the stairs and I must have passed out."

"She had the blank stare. She turned ash grey. It lives in my mind to this day. It's something I've never seen before," said Barry Utterbaugh, Deb's husband.

Deb was suffering the first of what would be four heart attacks in two years. Tests showed no blockage, and no signs of heart disease in this otherwise, fit and healthy, then 48-year-old.

Doctors diagnosed her with Prinzmetal angina. Her pain was caused by coronary artery spasms.

"The muscles will contract, constricting these arteries and then limiting blood flow to the muscle that it supplies," said Peter Reyes, MD, a cardiologist at The Heart Center at Mercy, Baltimore.

"My arteries go into spasm and on me, my body wants to twist them, cut off the blood supply, and I usually lose consciousness when that happens," Deb told Ivanhoe.

Deb keeps the spasms at bay with a cocktail of medications.

While it's not something she wished for- Deb says her condition has made her family closer.

Deb said, "I've learned to appreciate my kids in a different way."

Doctors say it's important to know the signs of Prinzmetal angina. Which may be similar to typical angina, tightness in the chest, pressure, shortness of breath, sweating or palpitations. And unlike typical angina which usually occurs during exertion, Prinzmetal usually happens when a person is at rest.
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