Angina is a recurring pain or discomfort
in the chest that happens when some part of the heart does not receive
enough blood. It is a common symptom of
coronary heart disease.
Angina feels like a pressing or
squeezing pain, usually in the chest under the breast bone, but
sometimes in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaws, or back. Angina is
usually precipitated by exertion. It is usually relieved within a few
minutes by resting or by taking prescribed angina medicine.
What brings on angina?
Episodes of angina occur when the
heart's need for oxygen increases beyond the oxygen available from the
blood nourishing the heart. Physical exertion is the most common
trigger for angina. Other triggers can be emotional stress, extreme
cold or heat, heavy meals, alcohol, and cigarette smoking.
Does angina mean a heart attack
is about to happen?
An episode of angina is not a
heart attack. Angina pain means that
some of the heart muscle in not getting enough blood temporarily - for
example, during exercise, when the heart has to work harder. The pain
does NOT mean that the heart muscle is suffering irreversible,
permanent damage. Episodes of angina seldom cause permanent damage to
In contrast, a heart attack occurs when
the blood flow to a part of the heart is suddenly and permanently cut
off. This causes permanent damage to the heart muscle.
Typically, the chest pain is more severe, lasts longer, and does not
go away with rest or with medicine that was previously effective. It
may be accompanied by indigestion, nausea, weakness, and sweating;
however, not all heart attacks have these symptoms and in some cases
symptoms may be considerably milder.
When someone has a repeating but stable
pattern of angina, an episode of angina does not mean that a heart
attack is about to happen. Angina means that there is underlying
coronary heart disease. Patients with angina are at an increased risk
of heart attack compared with those who have no symptoms of
cardiovascular disease, but the episode of angina is not a signal that
a heart attack is about to happen. In contrast, when the pattern of
angina changes--if episodes become more frequent, last longer, or
occur without exercise--the risk of heart attack in subsequent days or
weeks is much higher.
A person who has angina should learn
the pattern of his or her angina--what cause an angina attack, what it
feels like, how long episodes usually last, and whether medication
relieves the attack. If the pattern changes sharply or if the symptoms
are those of a heart attack, one should get medical help immediately,
perhaps best done by seeking an evaluation at a nearby hospital
Is all chest pain "angina?"
No, not at all. Not all chest pain is
from the heart, and not all pain from the heart is angina. For
example, if the pain lasts for less that 30 seconds or if it goes away
during a deep breath, after drinking a glass of water, or by changing
position, it almost certainly is NOT angina and should not cause
concern. But prolonged pain, unrelieved by rest and accompanied by
other symptoms may signal a heart attack.