What is angina?

Angina: Overview

Angina happens when there is not enough blood flow to your heart muscle. This low blood flow is often a result of coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease happens when fatty deposits called plaque (say "plak") build up inside your coronary arteries. This plaque may limit the amount of blood to your heart muscle. Having coronary artery disease also increases your risk of a heart attack.

Chest pain or pressure is the most common symptom of angina. But some people have other symptoms, like:

  • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly, or in one or both shoulders or arms.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat.

Angina can be dangerous. That's why it is important to pay attention to your symptoms. Know what is typical for you, learn how to control your symptoms, and understand when you need to get treatment.

A change in your usual pattern of symptoms is an emergency. It may mean that you are having a heart attack.

If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

Angina

Angina happens when there is not enough blood flow to the heart muscle. This low blood flow is often a result of coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease happens when fatty deposits called plaque (say "plak") build up inside your coronary arteries. This plaque may limit the amount of blood to your heart muscle.

Most people feel angina symptoms in their chest. The most common symptom is chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest. But you might feel symptoms in other parts of your body. Some people feel pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly, or in one or both shoulders or arms.

Other symptoms of angina include shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, lightheadedness or sudden weakness, or a fast or irregular heartbeat.

Angina can be stable or unstable. Stable angina means that you can usually predict when your symptoms will happen. You probably know what things cause your angina. Angina may be caused by a few things, including activity, stress, smoking, and being exposed to cold. Stable angina can be relieved by rest or nitroglycerin. Unstable angina means that your symptoms have changed and are not following your typical pattern of stable angina. Unstable angina may mean that you are having a heart attack.

If you have angina, pay attention to your symptoms, know what is typical for you, learn how to control it, and understand when you need to get treatment.

Angina symptoms

Common areas where angina symptoms can be felt.

Most people feel angina symptoms in the chest. The most common symptom is chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest. But you might feel symptoms in other parts of your body. Some people feel pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly, or in one or both shoulders or arms.

Other symptoms of angina include shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, lightheadedness or sudden weakness, or a fast or irregular heartbeat.

What are the types of angina?

The most common types of angina are stable angina and unstable angina.

Stable angina means that you can usually predict when your symptoms will happen. It happens when your heart is working harder and needs more oxygen, such as during exercise. You probably know what things cause your angina. You also know how to relieve your symptoms with rest or nitroglycerin.

Unstable angina means that your symptoms have changed from your typical pattern of stable angina. Your symptoms do not happen at a predictable time. For example, you may feel angina when you are resting. Your symptoms may not go away with rest or nitroglycerin. It is an emergency. It may mean that you are having a heart attack.

Vasospastic (also called Prinzmetal's) angina is one type of angina. It's caused by a sudden contraction, or spasm, of a coronary artery. It has a typical pattern, and symptoms go away with nitroglycerin.

How is angina treated?

Angina is treated with a heart-healthy lifestyle and medicine. You may take medicine that prevents or relieves your symptoms. You may also take other medicines to help prevent a heart attack. These include medicines to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. You may choose to have angioplasty or bypass surgery to relieve symptoms.

How is angina diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your medical history and do a physical exam. You may have tests to check how well your heart is working and to see if your arteries are narrowed. Examples of tests include an electrocardiogram, an echocardiogram, stress tests, and a CT angiogram.

What medicines are used to relieve angina?

Angina symptoms can be relieved with different types of medicine.

You may take a quick-acting form of nitroglycerin to prevent or relieve angina when it happens.

You might also take a daily angina medicine. This type of medicine can prevent angina that occurs during daily activities. It is not used to stop sudden symptoms of angina. Most people take this medicine every day. These medicines include nitrates (including nitroglycerin), beta-blockers, and calcium channel blockers.

How can you care for yourself when you have angina?

To manage angina, pay attention to your symptoms so you can see what causes them and what is typical for you. You may use medicine and change activities to prevent and relieve symptoms. Watch for changes in your symptoms. And know when to call your doctor or get help right away.

Modifying daily activities to manage angina

Most people who have angina can manage their symptoms. This includes knowing when to rest and taking medicine such as nitroglycerin.

You can also try modifying your daily activities to help prevent or relieve angina.

  • Know when to stop and rest.

    If an activity or exercise causes angina, stop and rest to relieve your symptoms.

  • Be active at a lower level.

    To prevent angina, try to be active at a level that does not cause symptoms.

  • Warm up slowly before activity.

    Warming up before you are active might prevent symptoms. If you have angina when you get up and start your daily activities, try starting slowly and easing into your day.

  • Change the way you eat.

    If symptoms happen after meals, give yourself time to rest and digest right after you eat. Eat smaller meals more often during the day instead of two or three large meals.

  • Get help for heavy chores around the house.

    Ask someone to do heavy chores for you, such as shoveling snow or mowing lawns. Maybe there is a friend, family member, or community group that can help.

If angina is more severe and you are having a hard time managing it, think about making changes in your life that might help. If it makes sense to do so, think about moving to a different home to avoid the physical stress caused by climbing stairs or doing heavy chores. If you work, think about asking for extra breaks or for tasks that allow you to sit. You can ask your doctor to write a note requesting these breaks or other adjustments so you can keep working.

Talk with your doctor if you are having a hard time managing your angina. Let your doctor know if angina is stopping you from doing daily activities or doing things that you enjoy. You and your doctor can decide whether to try other treatments.

What is angina?

Angina (say "ANN-juh-nuh" or "ann-JY-nuh") is a symptom that happens when your heart muscle does not get enough blood and oxygen. People can feel angina in different ways.

Angina can feel like:

  • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
  • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
  • A fast or irregular heartbeat.

What causes angina?

Angina happens when the heart muscle doesn't get enough oxygen. This most often happens because of a shortage of blood and oxygen to the heart muscle. This low blood flow is often a result of narrowed blood vessels, usually caused by hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).

Angina: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Sweating.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
  • You have angina symptoms that do not go away with rest or are not getting better within 5 minutes after you take a dose of nitroglycerin.

Call your doctor now if:

  • Your angina symptoms seem worse but still follow your typical pattern. You can predict when symptoms will happen, but they may come on sooner, feel worse, or last longer.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.