Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs because the heart muscle (myocardium) does not get enough blood and oxygen needed for a given level of work (insufficient blood supply called ischemia). There are two types of angina: stable, which can occur during physical exertion or under stress; and unstable, which can happen at any time for no apparent reason.
The most common symptom of angina is a pressing, squeezing or crushing pain, usually in the chest under the breast bone, but may also occur in the upper back, both arms, neck or ear lobes. Symptoms may also include pain radiating in the arms, shoulders, jaw, neck and/or back, shortness of breath, weakness and/or fatigue.
Chest pain associated with angina usually begins with physical exertion. Other triggers include emotional stress, extreme cold and heat, heavy meals, excessive alcohol consumption, and cigarette smoking. Angina chest pain is usually relieved within a few minutes by resting or by taking prescribed cardiac medications, such as nitroglycerin.
An episode of angina does not indicate that a heart attack is occurring or that a heart attack is about to occur. Angina does indicate, however, that coronary artery disease is present and that some part of the heart is not receiving an adequate blood supply. People with angina have an increased risk of heart attack.
The underlying coronary artery disease that causes angina should be treated by controlling existing risk factors: high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, high blood cholesterol levels, high saturated fat diet, lack of exercise and excess weight.
Medications such as nitroglycerin may be prescribed for people with angina.Previous Page Last Review Date: August 14, 2019