What Is It?
Angina is discomfort or pain in the chest that happens when not enough oxygen-rich blood reaches the muscle cells of the heart. Angina is not a disease, but a symptom of a more serious condition, usually coronary artery disease, in which the vessels that supply blood to the heart become narrow or blocked. Coronary artery disease is usually caused by atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty deposits (called plaque) build up along the inside walls of blood vessels. Although angina most commonly affects males who are middle-aged or older, it can occur in both sexes and in all age groups. Angina also is called angina pectoris.
Angina usually feels like a pressing, burning or squeezing pain in the chest. The main pain usually is under the breastbone, but it can spread to the throat, arms, jaws, between the shoulder blades or down to the stomach. Other symptoms that can go along with angina include nausea, dizziness or light-headedness, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, and sweating.
Doctors divide angina into two types:
Your doctor may suspect that you have angina based on your symptoms and your risk of coronary artery disease. The doctor will review your medical history toi see if you smoke (or have smoked) and whether you have diabetes and high blood pressure. Your doctor will ask about your family’s medical history and will review your cholesterol levels, including LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol. The doctor will check your blood pressure and pulse, and listen to your heart and lungs. You may need one or more diagnostic tests to determine if you have coronary artery disease. Possible tests include:
An angina attack usually lasts less than five minutes. Pain that lasts longer than that or is severe may signal a more significant decrease in the heart’s blood supply. This can happen when someone is having a heart attack or unstable angina.
You can help to prevent angina caused by coronary artery disease by controlling your risk factors for clogged arteries:
It’s also wise to exercise regularly and to maintain an ideal weight. If angina attacks are triggered by emotional stress, learning stress management or relaxation techniques may be helpful.