Man experiencing chest pain

Acute Coronary Syndrome

What is an acute coronary syndrome?

Acute coronary syndrome (ACS) refers to a group of conditions that cause sudden reduced blood flow to the heart. Examples of acute coronary syndromes include heart attack and unstable angina.

An ACS is a medical emergency that requires urgent treatment to address symptoms and restore blood flow to the heart.

What are the symptoms of an acute coronary syndrome?

Symptoms of an acute coronary syndrome tend to come on suddenly. The most common symptom is chest pain and discomfort (angina).

Other symptoms include:

Symptoms can vary depending on age, sex and medical conditions. Women are less likely to experience the crushing chest pain typically associated with heart attack and more likely to experience:

What causes an acute coronary syndrome?

An acute coronary syndrome results from a partial or complete blockage of blood supply to the heart. These blockages are usually caused by a build-up of fatty deposits (plaque) inside the heart’s arteries, known as atherosclerosis. This plaque can break open, causing a blood clot to form which can block the flow of blood through the arteries to the heart. This reduces the amount of oxygen delivered to the heart muscle, which can cause cell death and damage to the muscle tissue – also known as a heart attack. When the heart has a significantly reduced oxygen and blood supply, but it isn’t severe enough to cause cell death, this is known as unstable angina.

How is an acute coronary syndrome diagnosed?

Along with a physical exam and taking your medical history, tests to diagnose an acute coronary syndrome (ACS) may include:

Further tests that may be performed to understand the cause of the ACS may include:

How is an acute coronary syndrome treated?

Immediate treatment for an acute coronary syndrome (ACS) includes restoring blood flow and relieving pain. Blood flow is most commonly restored by performing a coronary angiogram with opening of the artery with a balloon and stent. In hospitals without the facilities to perform a coronary angiogram, powerful medications that can break down blood clots can be given.

Further treatment will depend on what condition(s) caused the ACS. This may include:

How can acute coronary syndrome be prevented?

The risk of an acute coronary syndrome (ACS) may be reduced by:

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years