Angina (cont.)

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What is angina, and what are the symptoms of angina?

Angina is chest discomfort that occurs when there is decreased blood oxygen supply to an area of the heart muscle. In most cases, the lack of blood supply is due to a narrowing of the coronary arteries as a result of arteriosclerosis.

Angina is usually felt as:

  • pressure,
  • heaviness,
  • tightening,
  • squeezing, or
  • aching across the chest, particularly behind the breastbone.

This pain often radiates to the neck, jaw, arms, back, or even the teeth.

Patients may also suffer:

Angina usually occurs during exertion, severe emotional stress, or after a heavy meal, when the heart muscle demands more blood oxygen than the narrowed coronary arteries can deliver. Angina typically lasts from 1 to 15 minutes and is relieved by rest or by placing a nitroglycerin tablet under the tongue, which relaxes the blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. Both rest and nitroglycerin decrease the heart muscles demand for oxygen, relieving angina.

Angina is classified in one of two types: 1) stable angina or 2) unstable angina.

Stable angina

Stable angina is the most common type of angina, and what most people mean when they refer to angina. People with stable angina have angina symptoms on a regular basis and the symptoms are somewhat predictable (for example, walking up a flight of steps causes chest pain). For most patients, symptoms occur during exertion and commonly last less than five minutes. They are relieved by rest or medication, such as nitroglycerin under the tongue. Stable angina is one of many causes of chronic chest pain.

Unstable angina

Unstable angina is less common but more serious. The symptoms are more severe and less predictable than the pattern of stable angina. Pain is more frequent, lasts longer, occurs at rest, and is not relieved by nitroglycerin under the tongue (or the patient needs to use more nitroglycerin than usual). Unstable angina is not the same as a heart attack, but warrants an immediate visit to your physician or hospital emergency department as further cardiac testing is urgently needed. Unstable angina is often a precursor to a heart attack.


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Angina - Diagnosis Question: How was the diagnosis of your angina established?
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Angina - Other Chest Pain Experience Question: Please describe your experience with chest pain that was due to causes other than angina.
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