Angina (also called angina pectoris) is a recurring discomfort or pain in the chest that occurs when an inadequate supply of blood reaches the heart muscle. Angina is not a heart attack, though the symptoms are similar. It is a warning symptom of a more serious condition, usually coronary heart disease.
You can help prevent angina due to coronary artery disease by controlling your risk factors for atherosclerosis, especially high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes.
Doctors divide angina into two types (stable or unstable) based on the symptom pattern and predictability. When a patient experiences stable angina, the chest pain will usually adhere to a specific pattern. Typically, people experience stable angina after a time of extreme emotional stress, overexertion, alcohol consumption, smoking, exposure to extremely hot or cold temperatures, or after eating a large meal. Symptoms usually disappear after a few minutes of rest. With unstable angina, the symptoms are less predictable and more serious. The discomfort and pain can last 20 minutes or more, even during sleep or at rest.
Angina is usually described as a pressing, burning or squeezing pain felt in the chest. Angina pain typically centers under the breastbone, but it may also spread to the throat, arms, jaws, between the shoulder blades or downward to the stomach. Other symptoms that may accompany angina include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
Angina currently affects more than 10 million Americans, with 350,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Although it most commonly affects males who are middle-aged or older, it can occur in both sexes and all age groups.
Call 911 if you experience chest pain, even if there is no history of heart problems in your family and you believe that you are too young to have angina. Although an angina episode is not a heart attack, it does alert the doctor that a patient's heart muscle is starved for blood and oxygen. Early treatment to improve the heart's blood supply can avoid permanent, irreversible damage to the heart.
More Answers from Johns Hopkins Medicine