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 What Is Angina Pectoris?

Angina pectoris (or simply angina) is recurring chest pain or discomfort that happens when some part of the heart does not receive enough blood.

Angina is a symptom of coronary heart disease (CHD), which occurs when arteries that carry blood to the heart become narrowed and blocked due to atherosclerosis.

Angina vs. heart attack

Angina may have similar symptoms as a heart attack, such as a crushing, squeezing pain in the chest; a feeling of pressure in the chest; or pain radiating in the arms, shoulders, jaw, neck, and/or back.

However, unlike the chest pain associated with a heart attack, the pain from angina usually goes away within a few minutes with rest or with the use of a cardiac prescription medication (i.e., nitroglycerin).

 What Are the Symptoms of Angina Pectoris?

Angina pectoris occurs when the heart muscle (myocardium) does not receive an adequate amount of blood needed for a given level of work (insufficient blood supply is called ischemia).

The following are the most common symptoms of angina.

However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

Symptoms may include:

  • A pressing, squeezing, or crushing pain, usually in the chest under the breast bone
  • Pain radiating in the arms, shoulders, jaw, neck, and/or back

The chest pain associated with angina usually begins with physical exertion. Other triggers include emotional stress, extreme cold and heat, heavy meals, excessive alcohol consumption, and cigarette smoking.

Angina chest pain is usually relieved within a few minutes by resting or by taking prescribed cardiac medications.

The symptoms of angina pectoris may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for more information.

Angina pectoris and heart attack risk

An episode of angina does not indicate that a heart attack is occurring, or that a heart attack is about to occur. Angina does indicate, however, that coronary heart disease is present and that some part of the heart is not receiving an adequate blood supply. Persons with angina have an increased risk of heart attack.

A person who has angina should note the patterns of his/her symptoms – what causes the chest pain, what it feels like, how long episodes usually last, and whether medication relieves the pain. Call for medical assistance if the angina episode symptoms change sharply.

Other Types of Angina Pectoris

There are two other forms of angina pectoris, including:

  • Variant angina pectoris (or Prinzmetal’s angina):
    • is rare.
    • occurs almost exclusively when a person is at rest.
    • often does not follow a period of physical exertion or emotional stress.
    • attacks can be very painful and usually occur between midnight and 8 a.m.
  •  Microvascular angina:
    • a recently-discovered type of angina.
    • patients with this condition experience chest pain but have no apparent coronary artery blockage.
    • physicians have found that the pain results from poor function of tiny blood vessels nourishing the heart as well as the arms and legs.
    • can be treated with some of the same medications used for angina pectoris.

Treatment of Angina Pectoris

Specific treatment for angina pectoris will be determined by the physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history.
  • Extent of the disease.
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies.
  • Expectations for the course of the disease.
  • Your opinion or preference.

The underlying coronary artery disease that causes angina should be treated by controlling existing risk factors: high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, high blood cholesterol levels, and excess weight.

Medications may be prescribed for people with angina. The most common is nitroglycerin which helps to relieve pain by widening the blood vessels. This allows more blood flow to the heart muscle and decreases the workload of the heart.