Angina (Chest Pain)
Angina, also known as chest pain, occurs when there is not enough blood flow to the heart. Angina can be dangerous, so it is important to pay attention to chest pain, know what is typical for you, learn how to control it and understand when you need to get treatment.
Types of Angina
- Stable angina is chest pain that has a typical pattern. It happens when your heart is working harder and needs more oxygen, such as during exercise. The pain goes away when you rest.
- Unstable angina is chest pain that is unexpected. Resting or taking nitroglycerin may not help. Your doctor will probably diagnose unstable angina if you are having chest pain for the first time or if your pain is getting worse, lasting longer, happening more often or happening at rest. Unstable angina is a warning sign that a heart attack may happen soon, so it requires treatment right away. But if you have any type of chest pain, see your doctor.
Symptoms of Angina
- Chest discomfort or pain that is crushing or squeezing or feels like a heavy weight on the chest.
- Chest discomfort or pain that occurs with:
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain that spreads from the chest to the back, neck, jaw, upper belly, or one or both shoulders or arms. The left shoulder and arm are more commonly affected.
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or feeling like you are going to faint.
- A fast, slow or irregular heartbeat
If you have any of these symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 or other emergency services immediately.
Causes of Angina
Angina is most commonly caused by coronary artery disease, which develops as plaque forms on the artery walls. This causes narrowing of the coronary arteries, a process called arteriosclerosis. When this narrowing reaches 50 to 70 percent, lack of oxygen to the heart muscle causes chest pain.
More rarely, angina is caused by coronary artery spasm, rapid contraction of the muscle fibers surrounding the artery walls.
Angina Diagnosis and Treatment
Physicians use a variety of tests to confirm a diagnosis of angina, including echocardiogram, exercise stress test, CT angiogram or cardiac catherterization.
Mild angina can often be treated by rest and medications. However, more severe cases may require angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery.