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Angina

Angina, or angina pectoris, is the medical term for chest pains behind the breastbone.  Angina pectoris is Latin for squeezing of the chest. Angina is a specific type of pain in the chest caused by inadequate blood flow through the blood vessels (coronary vessels) of the heart muscle (myocardium). Angina, characterized by chest pain, is a symptom of a condition called myocardial ischemia, which occurs when the heart muscle isn't getting as much blood as it needs to function.

congenital defects 


Angina is not a disease itself. It is the primary symptom of coronary artery disease.  Angina can also be a warning sign of heart attack. Angina usually indicates a partial blockage in blood flow to the heart.

Angina is more common and more intense in men than in women. Doctors are uncertain whether this occurs because women tolerate pain better than men, or whether women unconsciously lower their physical activity to avoid attacks of angina.

Angina attacks in men usually occur after the age of 30 and are nearly always caused by coronary artery disease (CAD). For women, angina tends to occur later in life. 

Coronary artery spasm may occur spontaneously, or it may be caused by exposure to cold, emotional stress, or vasoconstricting medications. Cocaine use can cause severe spasm of the arteries while at the same time increasing the energy requirements of the heart. Variant angina is a syndrome, probably involving coronary artery spasm, where the angina pain does not have the usual triggering activities. It most often affects women under 50.

Symptoms of Angina

The most common symptoms of angina are:

  • Increased heart rate.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Chest pain described as a feeling of tightness, pressure, heaviness, squeezing, or burning. This pain is usually on the left side and radiates to the lower jaw, neck, shoulder, back, arm, or hand.

Other symptoms of angina include burning in throat, feelings of indigestion and shortness of breath.

What causes Angina?

Atherosclerosis is the leading cause of angina. However, in some cases, angina is caused by spasms of the muscles that control blood flow in the arteries. This is called variant angina. These attacks may occur even when a person is at rest. Angina and can be treated. Most angina attacks usually last for only a few minutes, and most can be relieved by rest.  Other treatment techniques are lowering high blood pressure and following a diet with low fat intake.

Angina can also be caused by large meals, which place an immediate demand upon the heart for more oxygen.  

Types of Angina

There are different types of angina.  The two major types are Variant angina pectoris and Microvascular angina.

Variant angina is a rare form of angina that is caused by coronary spasms (vasospasm). The coronary spasm contracts the muscles in the wall of an artery in the heart making the artery constrict.  When the artery constricts, blood flow through the artery is either stopped or slowed. When this occurs, the heart does not get enough blood. Variant angina may happen in patients who also have severe atherosclerosis in at least one major vessel. Unlike typical angina, variant angina usually occurs during times of rest. Variant angina attacks are often very painful, and the attacks happen more often between midnight and 8 in the morning. Usually the attacks happen at the same time each day.

Coronary artery spasm may occur from many different stimulants.  Its may occur spontaneously or it may be caused by exposure to cold, emotional stress, or vaso-constricting medications. Cocaine use will increase the chances of having angina.  The chance of an angina attack increase because cocaine can cause severe spasm of the arteries while at the same time increasing the energy requirements of the heart. 

Patients with variant angina have a greater risk for heart attack, an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), and even sudden death. Those who survive a heart attack usually stabilize. Many patients who suffer from angina find that the symptoms and events of variant angina slowly go away.

Microvascular angina is a recently discovered type of angina. Patients suffering from microvascular angina have chest pain but do not seem to have a blockage in a coronary artery. The pain in the chest is because the tiny blood vessels that feed the heart, arms, and legs are not working properly. Generally, patients cope well with this type of angina and have very few long-term side effects.

Angina Statistics

  • About 6,300,000 people in the United States suffer from angina.
  • Each year, 350,000 new cases of angina occur.
  • Angina affects approximately 4 out of 100,000 people.

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