Information on symptoms of angina pectoris and blocked arteries.
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- What is Angina Pectoris?
- Diagnosing Angina Pectoris
- What Causes Angina Pectoris?
- Help for Angina Pectoris
What is Angina Pectoris?
Angina pectoris is the medical term for chest pain or the feeling of pressure in the chest that occurs when the heart muscle does not receive sufficient blood and oxygen supply. When the arteries supplying blood and oxygen to the heart are blocked, the blood flow to the heart muscle is obstructed and chest pain results.
Angina pectoris may also be felt in the neck, back, shoulders, arms or jaw and sometimes can be confused with the pain of indigestion. It is more common in men than women and generally affects people over the age of 50, although it can also occur in younger people.
Three Main Types of Angina Pectoris
The most common type of angina is stable angina, and this occurs when the heart is working harder than usual. It tends to occur after physical exertion, under emotional stress, or during excited. It is a result of a fixed obstruction of blood flow to the heart. At rest, there is sufficient blood and oxygen supply to the heart and no pain is felt. However, under conditions of exertion or strain there is insufficient oxygen delivered to the heart muscle and the pain of angina is felt. Stable angina is not a heart attack but can indicate the possibility of a heart attack occurring in the future.
Unstable angina is more serious and can quickly progress to a heart attack. It can occur at times of rest, such as during sleep, or it may occur during physical exertion. Unstable angina occurs as a result of a sudden interruption of blood flow to the heart, and is caused by a partial or complete blockage of the artery. A person who has never experienced angina before may suddenly develop moderate or severe symptoms of discomfort. Usually, these attacks will become more frequent and intensify over time unless the blockage is corrected.
Variant angina is rare and usually occurs when the person is at rest. The pain experienced is severe and often occurs between midnight and early morning.
How is Angina Pectoris diagnosed?
The diagnosis of angina pectoris is based upon the person’s symptoms, medical history, as well as a physical examination. A doctor’s examination will help to rule out whether the chest pain could be caused by anything else such as indigestion or physical injury. If angina is suspected, your doctor will carry out other tests and investigations to confirm the diagnosis of angina and to establish the underlying cause.
Tests Typically Used to Diagnose Angina Pectoris
- Tests that may be performed include:
- Electrocardiography (EKG, ECG)
- Chest x-ray
- Exercise (stress) test
- Coronary angiography/cardiac catheterization
- Ergonovine test
- Blood tests including cholesterol level
Symptoms of Angina Pectoris
Symptoms of angina pectoris vary from person to person. Angina may also be sparked when they place unusual physical strain upon themselves. It may also worsen after eating a large meal, when changing from a warmer to a colder temperature, or walking in the wind.
- The symptoms commonly experienced include:
- Heaviness or tightness in the chest
- A stabbing pain that may spread to the left shoulder, arm, hand, neck, throat or jaw. This pain is often described as squeezing or pressing in nature. Numbness may sometimes also be felt.
- Additional symptoms include sweating, nausea or difficulty breathing.
What Causes Angina Pectoris?
This build up of fatty deposits is a gradual process called atherosclerosis. As the fatty deposits build up, the coronary arteries become narrow and stiff and blood flow to the heart is reduced, thereby reducing the supply of oxygen to the heart muscle and causing pain.
Help for Angina Pectoris
The first approach in the treatment of angina pectoris is to prevent the progression of heart disease. By addressing the known causes of heart disease, such as reducing high cholesterol levels, controlling high blood pressure, stopping smoking, losing weight, exercising and eating a "heart-healthy" diet, the symptoms can be reduced.
Most people can live a productive life if they make the necessary lifestyle changes. By following medical advice, taking doctor-prescribed medication, maintaining a good, physical condition and eating well, angina can be controlled.