Overview Acute Coronary Syndrome
ACS or Acute Coronary Syndrome is an umbrella term for all the conditions that result in a sudden decreased blood flow to the heart. The most common ACS conditions are unstable angina and myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack in layman’s terms. When coronary arteries are unable to supply oxygen to the heart, heart tissue can be damaged resulting in a heart attack. Almost every ACS condition is severely fatal and requires immediate medical attention.
Acute Coronary Syndrome often manifests itself with a severe chest pain or the pain traveling from chest to shoulders and arms. However, this may not always be the case and patients may have atypical and varied symptoms. Hence it is advised to consult your physician to understand more about its signs and symptoms.
Causes of Acute Coronary Syndrome
It is usually caused by the accumulation of a fatty substance inside and on the walls of coronary arteries. This substance is called plaque and made up of cholesterol, fat, and other waste products.
This plaque can obstruct blood flow inside the coronary artery in two ways:
- When left untreated for a long time, plaque accumulation can cause the artery to become so narrow that blood can flow through it properly.
- The plaque suddenly ruptures and results in the formation of a blood clot around it. This blood can partially or completely block the artery, resulting in no or minimal blood flow.
In both the cases mentioned above, reduced blood flow and the oxygen level in the arteries can lead to the death of cells. This causes fatal damage to heart tissues which is manifested as a heart attack.
Although, reduced blood flow doesn’t always lead to dead cells. But, it is still severely detrimental to heart and interrupts its regular functioning. This interruption can be permanent or temporary, but always serious enough to require a prompt medical action.
Symptoms of Acute Coronary Syndrome
The usual suspect among many other symptoms of ACS is severe chest pain. The chest pain may be acute, come and go frequently, or get worse with every moment passing by.
Apart from this, here are some other common symptoms.
- Pain in shoulder, arm, neck, jaw, back, or belly area
- The discomfort that feels like tightness, squeezing, crushing, burning, choking, or aching
- The discomfort that worsens with rest
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded<
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
The severity of these symptoms may vary from patient to patient, depending upon age, medical history or even gender. Women and children might not exhibit chest pain or discomfort like men but can show other symptoms.
Diagnosis of Acute Coronary Syndrome
To understand the exact cause of the ACS symptoms, a doctor will start with a thorough examination of your medical history. If the doctor suspects an ACS condition then he/she might ask you to get these two tests done.
- Blood test - To check whether there is any evidence of damage or injury to the heart cells
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) - To check any abnormality in the functioning of heart by measuring its electrical activity.
Once the tests confirm an ACS condition, then the doctor will take further steps to get rid of the blockage.
Treatment of Acute Coronary Syndrome
The treatment goal in ACS conditions is to remove the blockage in the arteries and regulating the blood flow. It can be done with the help of a medicinal regime, angioplasty and stenting or a surgery, depending on the condition and the amount of blockage. In most cases, treatment may include:
- Medicines - Doctors can ask you to take a number of medicines including aspirin, other antiplatelets, beta blockers, statins, blood thinners, etc. These medicines help in breaking the blood clot, treating high blood pressure, relieving chest pain, and ultimately reducing the risk of a heart attack.
- Angioplasty - This method includes the insertion of a long, thin tube, called a catheter, inside the arteries to open the blockage. The catheter carries a small deflated balloon which is then inflated inside the arteries to open the blockage. The doctor may use a wire tube, called a stent, to keep the artery open. The patient is kept under controlled anesthesia during the process.
- Bypass surgery - It may be required for multivessel disease, left main artery disease or very calcified disease. This surgery is performed to re-route the blood around the blocked artery.
Although the above-mentioned treatments can help in controlling and managing the ACS conditions, the risk is always there. Regular checkups and sticking to the treatment plan can surely help you in:
- Preventing the blood from clotting
- Regulating the blood pressure
- Keeping your cholesterol levels and sugar levels under control
- Regulating the blood flow to and from heart
- Preventing future risks