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Angina pectoris (or simply angina) is recurring chest pain or discomfort that happens when some part of the heart does not receive enough blood and oxygen. Angina is a symptom of coronary heart disease (CHD), which occurs when arteries that carry blood to the heart become narrowed and blocked due to atherosclerosis or a blood clot.
Angina pectoris occurs when the heart muscle (myocardium) does not receive an adequate amount of blood and oxygen needed for a given level of work (insufficient blood supply is called ischemia). The following are the most common symptoms of angina. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The 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.
The symptoms of angina pectoris may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for more information.
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 heart disease is present and that some part of the heart is not receiving an adequate blood supply. Persons with angina have an increased risk of heart attack.
A person who has angina should note the patterns of his/her symptoms - what causes the chest pain, what it feels like, how long episodes usually last, and whether medication relieves the pain. Call for medical assistance if the angina episode symptoms change sharply.
In addition to a complete medical history and medical examination, a physician can often diagnose angina pectoris by noting the patient's symptoms and how/when they occur. Certain diagnostic procedures may also determine the severity of the coronary heart disease, and may include:
Specific treatment for angina pectoris will be determined by the physician based on:
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 may be prescribed for people with angina. The most common is nitroglycerin which helps to relieve pain by widening the blood vessels. This allows more blood flow to the heart muscle and decreases the workload of the heart.
There are two other forms of angina pectoris, including:
Variant angina pectoris
(or Prinzmetal's angina):