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Angina

Condition Basics

What is angina?

Angina is a symptom of coronary artery disease, or heart disease. For most people, it feels like chest pain or pressure. Some people feel other symptoms. These include pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.

What causes it?

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. The narrowing may be due to a buildup of plaque caused by hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). The narrowing can also happen when a coronary artery suddenly contracts (spasms).

If you have stable angina, you can usually predict when your symptoms will happen. For example, symptoms may happen with activity or exertion. You may feel symptoms when you are exposed to the cold, you are stressed, or you are smoking.

With unstable angina or a heart attack, symptoms are different from your typical pattern of stable angina. For example, you may have symptoms at rest. This happens when narrowed vessels or blood clots in the coronary arteries suddenly slow blood flow to the heart muscle.

What are the symptoms?

Picture of 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.

Women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.

How is angina treated?

Angina can be controlled 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 manage 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.

Credits

Current as of: April 29, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review:

Rakesh K. Pai MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology

E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine

Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine

Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine

Stephen Fort MD, MRCP, FRCPC - Interventional Cardiology