Angina pectoris is a squeezing pain or discomfort in the chest area and a typical symptom of a heart attack. The heart muscle usually produces a feeling of crushing pressure when it receives an inadequate supply of oxygen-rich blood to function properly. Some heart attack victims describe the angina pain as similar to indigestion often radiating upwards through the shoulder, jaw, back, and arms.
Heart attacks can trigger acute angina pain. A heart attack happens most commonly when coronary arteries becomes narrowed, blocked (ischemia), or ruptured. Angina is not the underlying disease itself, but the recognised and noticeable signs and symptoms of coronary heart disease (CHD).
Coronary heart disease in adults affects both men and women equally. It results from a waxy substance which builds up on the inner walls of arteries. The buildup of plaque restricts the arterial blood flow and stiffens the arteries which increases the risk of a heart attack.
Different Types of Angina require Different Treatments
Angina Pectoris (often called stable or common angina)
Stable angina occurs when the heart is working harder than normal. It is reported to be the most common type of angina in adults. Stable angina is recognised by its regular pattern. The ‘pattern’ represents the regularity of the angina and its severity. Learning the pattern of stable angina helps the sufferer to predict when the pain will strike.
The most common treatments for stable angina include rest and taking prescribed angina medicine. Patients with stable angina should expect that a heart attack is more likely to happen at some time in the future.
The ‘pattern’ of unstable angina is less predictable than stable angina and often occurs more severely. Another difference is that unstable angina happens even without physical exertion by the patient. Rest and medication do not always relieve pain for unstable angina sufferers and they need urgent medical treatment. It is a sign that a serious heart attack may happen very soon.
Variant Angina (prinzmetal)
Variant angina usually happens while the sufferer is resting and, although variant angina is rare, it is caused by a coronary artery spasm. The pain is often very severe but it can be relieved by medication. Variant angina - sometimes called Prinzmetal’s angina - happens most often between midnight and the early morning.
Microvascular angina is difficult to control even with medication. It is severe and the pain often lasts longer than other types of common angina pains.
Coronary Artery Spasms
Acute Coronary Syndrome
Angina is also a symptom of heart disease which affects the tiniest coronary arteries - though the main cause is not plaque buildup. It is known as coronary microvascular disease (MVD) - sometimes called cardiac syndrome X - and tends to affect more women than men.
Not all chest pains are factors of coronary heart disease but anyone who experiences chest pain should be medically examined and checked by a doctor.