Angina pectoris (or simply angina) is recurring chest pain or discomfort
that happens when some part of the heart does not receive enough blood
and oxygen. 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 or a blood clot.
What are the symptoms of angina pectoris?
Angina pectoris occurs when the heart muscle (myocardium) does not
receive an adequate amount of blood and oxygen 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, but may also occur in the upper back,
both arms, neck or ear lobes
pain radiating in the arms, shoulders, jaw, neck, and/or back
shortness of breath
weakness and/or fatigue
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, such as nitroglycerin.
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.
Diagnosing angina pectoris:
In addition to a complete medical history and medical examination, a
physician can often diagnose angina pectoris by noting the patient's
symptoms and how/when they occur. Certain diagnostic procedures may also
determine the severity of the coronary heart disease, and may include:
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
A test that records the electrical activity of the heart, shows
abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias or dysrhythmias), and detects
heart muscle damage.
Stress Test (usually with ECG; also called treadmill or
A test that is given while a patient walks on a treadmill or
pedals a stationary bicycle to monitor the heart during
exercise. Breathing and blood pressure rates are also monitored.
A stress test may be used to detect coronary artery disease,
and/or to determine safe levels of exercise following a heart
attack or heart surgery.
With this procedure, x-rays are taken after a contrast agent is
injected into an artery to locate the narrowing, occlusions, and
other abnormalities of specific arteries.
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
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, high saturated fat
diet, lack of exercise 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.
Other types of angina pectoris:
There are two other forms of angina pectoris, including:
Variant angina pectoris
(or Prinzmetal's angina):
occurs almost exclusively when a person is at
often does not follow a period of physical
exertion or emotional stress
attacks can be very painful and usually occur
between midnight and 8:00 am
is related to spasm of the artery
a recently discovered type of angina
patients with this condition experience chest
pain but have no apparent coronary artery
physicians have found that the pain results from
poor function of tiny blood vessels nourishing
the heart as well as the arms and leg scan be
treated with some of the same medications used
for angina pectoris
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.