Angina is a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscle. Angina (an-JI-nuh or AN-juh-nuh) is a symptom of coronary artery disease. Angina is typically described as squeezing, pressure, heaviness, tightness or pain in your chest. Many people with angina say it feels like someone is standing on their chest.
Angina, also called angina pectoris, can be a recurring problem or a sudden, acute health concern.
Angina is relatively common, but can be hard to distinguish from other types of chest pain, such as the pain or discomfort of indigestion. If you have unexplained chest pain, seek medical attention right away.
Angina symptoms include:
The chest pain and discomfort common with angina may be described as pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. Some people with angina symptoms describe angina as feeling like a vise is squeezing their chest, or feeling like a heavy weight has been placed on their chest.
The severity, duration and type of angina can vary. It's important to recognize if you have new or changing chest pain. New or different symptoms may signal a more dangerous form of angina (unstable angina) or a heart attack.
Stable angina is the most common form of angina and typically occurs with exertion and goes away with rest. If chest pain is a new symptom for you, it's important to see your doctor to find out what's causing your chest pain and to get proper treatment. If your stable angina gets worse or changes, seek medical attention immediately.
Characteristics of stable angina
Characteristics of unstable angina (a medical emergency)
Characteristics of variant angina (Prinzmetal's angina)
Prinzmetal's angina is rare — only about 2 percent of angina cases are Prinzmetal's angina. This type of angina is caused by a spasm in your heart's arteries that temporarily reduces blood flow.
Angina in women
When to see a doctor
Angina is caused by reduced blood flow to your heart muscle. Your blood carries oxygen, which your heart muscle needs to survive. When your heart muscle isn't getting enough oxygen, it causes a condition called ischemia.
The most common cause of reduced blood flow to your heart muscle is coronary artery disease (CAD). Your heart (coronary) arteries can become narrowed by fatty deposits called plaques. This is called atherosclerosis.
This reduced blood flow is a supply problem — your heart is not getting enough oxygen-rich blood. You may wonder why you don't always have angina if your heart arteries are narrowed due to fatty buildup. This is because during times of low oxygen demand — when you're resting, for example — your heart muscle may be able to get by on the reduced amount of blood flow ithout triggering angina symptoms. But when you increase the demand for oxygen, such as when you exercise, this can cause angina.
The following risk factors increase your risk of coronary artery disease and angina:
The chest pain that can occur with angina can make doing some normal activities, such as walking, uncomfortable. However, the most dangerous complication to be concerned about with angina is a heart attack.
Common symptoms of a heart attack include:
If you have any of these symptoms, seek emergency medical attention immediately.
Preparing for your appointment
If you think you may have recurring angina or are worried about your angina risk because of a strong family history, make an appointment with your family doctor. If angina is found early, your treatment may be easier and more effective. If you're having sudden chest pain (unstable angina), seek emergency medical attention immediately.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For angina, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
The doctor will also ask you to describe your discomfort or pain:
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose angina, your doctor will start by doing a physical exam and asking about your symptoms. You'll also be asked about any risk factors, including whether you have a family history of heart disease.
There are several tests your doctor may order to help confirm whether you have angina:
Treatments and drugs
There are many options for angina treatment, including lifestyle changes, medications, angioplasty and stenting, or coronary bypass surgery. The goals of treatment are to reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms and to lower your risk of heart attack and death.
However, if you have unstable angina or angina pain that's different from what you usually have, such as occurring when you're at rest, you need immediate treatment in a hospital.
Medical procedures and surgery
Lifestyle and home remedies
Because heart disease is often the cause of most forms of angina, you can reduce or prevent angina by working on reducing your heart disease risk factors. Making lifestyle changes is the most important step you can take.
Supplements that may help improve your angina treatment include:
Both of these supplements may help reduce the swelling in your arteries that causes them to narrow, which contributes to high blood pressure and chest pain. Before adding either of these supplements to your treatment, talk to your doctor. Supplements can interact with other medications, causing dangerous side effects.
You can help prevent angina by making the same lifestyle changes that might improve your symptoms if you already have angina. These include:
Last Updated: 2011-06-24
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