Angina is chest pain or discomfort you feel when there is not enough blood flow to your heart muscle. Your heart muscle needs the oxygen that the blood carries. Angina may feel like pressure or a squeezing pain in your chest. It may feel like indigestion. You may also feel pain in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back.
Angina is a symptom of coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common heart disease. CAD happens when a sticky substance called plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart, reducing blood flow.
There are three types of angina:
- Stable angina is the most common type. It happens when the heart is working harder than usual. Stable angina has a regular pattern. Rest and medicines usually help.
- Unstable angina is the most dangerous. It does not follow a pattern and can happen without physical exertion. It does not go away with rest or medicine. It is a sign that you could have a heart attack soon.
- Variant angina is rare. It happens when you are resting. Medicines can help.
Not all chest pain or discomfort is angina. If you have chest pain, you should see your health care provider.
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease. It is the leading cause of death in the United States in both men and women.
CAD happens when the arteries that supply blood to heart muscle become hardened and narrowed. This is due to the buildup of cholesterol and other material, called plaque, on their inner walls. This buildup is called atherosclerosis. As it grows, less blood can flow through the arteries. As a result, the heart muscle can’t get the blood or oxygen it needs. This can lead to chest pain (angina) or a heart attack. Most heart attacks happen when a blood clot suddenly cuts off the hearts’ blood supply, causing permanent heart damage.
Over time, CAD can also weaken the heart muscle and contribute to heart failure and arrhythmias. Heart failure means the heart can’t pump blood well to the rest of the body. Arrhythmias are changes in the normal beating rhythm of the heart.
Each year over a million people in the U.S. have a heart attack. About half of them die. Many people have permanent heart damage or die because they don’t get help immediately. It’s important to know the symptoms of a heart attack and call 9-1-1 if someone is having them. Those symptoms include
- Chest discomfort – pressure, squeezing, or pain
- Shortness of breath
- Discomfort in the upper body – arms, shoulder, neck, back
- Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness, sweating
These symptoms can sometimes be different in women.
What exactly is a heart attack? Most heart attacks happen when a clot in the coronary artery blocks the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart. Often this leads to an irregular heartbeat – called anarrhythmia – that causes a severe decrease in the pumping function of the heart. A blockage that is not treated within a few hours causes the affected heart muscle to die.
If you’re like most people, you think that heart disease is a problem for others. But heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S. It is also a major cause of disability. There are many different forms of heart disease. The most common cause of heart disease is narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart itself. This is called coronary artery diseaseand happens slowly over time. It’s the major reason people have heart attacks.
Other kinds of heart problems may happen to the valves in the heart, or the heart may not pump well and cause heart failure. Some people are born with heart disease.
You can help reduce your risk of heart disease by taking steps to control factors that put you at greater risk:
- Control your blood pressure
- Lower your cholesterol
- Don’t smoke
- Get enough exercise