Angina is pain or discomfort that may feel like heaviness, pressure, tightness or squeezing in your chest. Different people experience angina in different ways. Angina is a type of chest pain or discomfort that is a sign of an underlying heart problem, usually coronary artery disease (CAD). Symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Some people with angina feel chest discomfort or shortness of breath but have no pain at all. Although angina is quite common, it can be hard to distinguish from other types of chest pain, such as indigestion.
Angina can stop and start, and episodes of angina can last anywhere from seconds to minutes. It often happens when your heart is working harder than usual, such as during physical exertion, emotional stress or after a heavy meal. During these times, your heart needs more oxygen rich blood than the narrowed arteries can deliver. There’s usually no permanent muscle damage caused by angina. The pain often fades away with rest or medication.
If you experience angina when you’re resting, this is a sign that the condition is getting worse and you should seek medical attention.
Causes and types of angina
Stable Angina: Stable angina is usually brought on by an increased demand on the heart, for example exercising. When we exercise, our heart needs more oxygenated blood but narrowed arteries slow down the amount of blood that can be delivered. Angina can also be brought on by other non-physical causes such as emotional stress, heavy meals, smoking and cold temperatures.
Unstable Angina: Unstable angina is caused by a sudden narrowing of the arteries; this can be a result of fatty deposits that rupture and further block an already narrow artery. Unstable angina can also be caused by a blood clot that significantly reduces the blood flow to the heart, either partially or totally blocking the artery.
If you experience angina at rest, or if your angina is not relieved by your usual medications, you may have unstable angina. It is important to seek emergency medical attention at your nearest hospital. If the blood flow to your heart is not corrected quickly, you can suffer a heart attack.
Since angina is mostly caused by coronary artery disease, the risk factors for both are much the same.
Reducing the risk factors for angina and coronary artery disease can help to either prevent or control angina. Medications can also be used to help manage your symptoms to enable a more active lifestyle.