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What Is Acute Coronary Syndrome?


Updated August 11, 2008

Question: What Is Acute Coronary Syndrome?

Acute coronary syndrome (ACS) is the name used to describe a common set of symptoms that occur when blood flow to the heart is interrupted. Angina and heart attack are both types of ACS. ACS symptoms occur at rest, and no exercise or increased physical activity is needed to produce symtpoms. ACS is caused by the temporary formation of a blood clot in one of the vessels supplying the heart. When the clot forms, ACS occurs. If the clot dissolves, the symptoms resolve. If the clot does not dissolve, a heart attack occurs.

Symptoms of Acute Coronary Symptoms

The classic symptoms of ACS are:
  • chest pain (often described as a dull pain, pressure, or feeling of tightness)
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating
  • and sometimes nausea or palpitations.

Causes of ACS

ACS has many causes, and a variety of things increase the risk of ACS, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • A previous history of heart attack
  • Having known blockages in some of the blood vessels around the heart
The diagnosis of ACS is made primarily based on symptoms, but a number of other tests – like EKG and blood tests – are often used for confirmation. Because ACS is a potentially dangerous condition, it is typically diagnosed very rapidly, and it is increasingly uncommon to delay treatment while waiting for blood tests or other tests.

Seek Emergency Help for Symptoms of ACS

ACS is treated using both invasive and non-invasive means. Which types of treatment are chosen depends on a number of factors, and some evidence indicates that men and women should be treated differently. Drugs like aspirin and nitroglycerin are usually given, along with oxygen and some type of pain medication. Pain medication is given because pain causes a rise in stress hormones, which can make ACS worse.

Invasive measures for treating ACS are primarily surgical in nature and involve directly fixing the blockage(s) causing the symptoms.

In all cases, early recognition and treatment are essential to avoid dangerous, potentially deadly situations. If you experience any symptoms suggestive of ACS, contact 911 immediately.

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