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Coronary Artery Spasm, Coronary Reactivity, and Their Psychological Context

Mehta, Puja K., MD; Thobani, Aneesha, MD; Vaccarino, Viola, MD, PhD

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000682

ABSTRACT Symptomatic individuals suspected of having myocardial ischemia often have no obstructive atherosclerotic narrowing of epicardial coronary arteries. Abnormal coronary vascular reactivity and, in particular, coronary artery vasospasm (CAS) may be an explanation in a subset of these patients. Psychological factors play an important role in ischemic heart disease, but their role in CAS is not clear; autonomic dysfunction and increased inflammation are two prevailing pathophysiological mechanisms implicated in abnormal coronary reactivity resulting from mental health conditions. Interrelationships between psychological factors, abnormal coronary reactivity, and sex/gender differences are poorly defined in the etiology of CAS. In this issue of Psychosomatic Medicine (2019;81:237–245), Hung et al. report a frequency of less than 0.1% of new-onset CAS in the Taiwanese population, with higher occurrence in women and younger individuals. Patients with CAS had a higher prevalence of previous anxiety and depression compared with those with coronary artery disease and controls, with no sex differences. In this editorial comment, we discuss the potential reasons for underreporting of CAS and the challenges regarding the use of administrative health records for psychosomatic research. In this editorial, a model is presented to explain the association between emotional stressors and mental health factors with CAS, including the role of sympathetic nervous system activation, inflammation, oxidative stress, endothelial dysfunction, and smooth muscle cell dysregulation.

From the Emory Women's Heart Center and Emory Clinical Cardiovascular Research Institute (Mehta); Division of Cardiology (Mehta), Department of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine; J. Willis Hurst Internal Medicine Residency Program (Thobani), Emory University School of Medicine; Department of Epidemiology (Vaccarino), Emory University Rollins School of Public Health; and Division of Cardiology (Vaccarino), Department of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia.

Address correspondence to Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD, Department of Epidemiology, Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, 1518 Clifton Rd, 3rd Flr, Atlanta, GA 30322. E-mail:

Received for publication January 7, 2019.

Copyright © 2019 by American Psychosomatic Society
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