Angina, or angina pectoris (Latin for squeezing of the chest) is a type of chest pain, discomfort, or tightness that occurs when an area of the heart muscle is receiving too little oxygen. Angina is not considered a disease in itself – more of a symptom of coronary artery disease. It is usually caused by a lack of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, caused by coronary arteries that have become narrowed as a result of the buildup of arterial plaque. This condition, called atherosclerosis, is considered a common cause of coronary artery disease and heart attack.

Angina can manifest as pain or discomfort in the chest, lasting from 1 to 15 minutes, and can be categorized as stable, unstable, or variant. It is considered to indicate an increased risk of coronary artery disease. Risk factors for angina include high cholesterol levels, smoking, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and a family history of heart disease. It is almost always caused by a buildup of cholesterol on the walls of the coronary arteries, which narrows them and thus restricts the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.

What does angina feel like?

The pain of angina is often interpreted as a heart attack, but is more accurately a feeling of pain, pressure, or squeezing in your chest. The actual pain you feel from angina is caused because there is not enough blood flowing to part of your heart. This forces the heart to work with insufficient oxygen, and that causes the pain. Angina is thus considered a major symptom of heart disease, and should be investigated immediately.

Symptoms of angina can vary from individual to individual but is most often characterized by feelings of aching, burning, discomfort, pressure, and a feeling of fullness in the chest. You might experience pain directly behind your breastbone, but the pain can also radiate to your shoulders, neck, throat, jaw, and arms. Men most often experience angina as a pain in their chest, neck, and shoulders, whereas women often experience discomfort in their belly, neck, jaw, throat, or back. For both sexes, the pain can be accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, and dizziness.

What should you do if you have experienced any of these symptoms?

You should see a doctor immediately. He or she will want to know how long you have been experiencing this pain, how long it lasts, whether the pain is recurring, and what you were doing when the pain appeared. Your doctor might recommend a number of tests to determine the cause of your symptoms, including an exercise stress test (walking on a treadmill), an electrocardiogram (EKG, which measures the electric activity of your heart), or angiopathy (in which a dye is injected into your bloodstream and then watched via X-ray to pinpoint any blockages). Your Phoenix cardiologist might also order blood tests to check the levels of fat, cholesterol, sugar, and proteins in your blood.

If these tests indicate heart disease, what kind of treatment is required?

Any treatment regimen depends on your individual case, how blocked your arteries might have become, and how much damage your heart has sustained as a result. Many people can treat their angina successfully with medications to relax and widen blood vessels, slow the heart so that it doesn’t have to work as hard, and relax blood vessels to increase blood flow and prevent blood clots. If these treatments are insufficient, further procedures or surgery might be required by your Phoenix heart specialist.

What is your prognosis if you have angina?

Angina raises your risk of heart attack, but is treatable. Your cardiology center doctor will almost certainly recommend that you stop smoking if you are a smoker, and that you eat a heart-healthy diet to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Your doctor will also recommend certain types of exercise and possibly stress-relieving techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing. If you have concerns about your heart health, give us a call and schedule an appointment to meet with us.

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