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What Is Angina?
Angina is the term given to the pain that develops during periods of insufficient oxygen delivery to heart. Different people experience angina in different ways:
  • Angina is often felt as a sharp or dull pain in the chest. The pain may seem to radiate into the arms, back, throat, or jaw.

  • Other people may have no pain at all, but will experience a sensation of tightness or pressure over the chest.

  • Still others may begin sweating, develop a feeling of nausea or indigestion, or just feel short of breath.

  • Some people may have many or all of these symptoms.
Your angina may occur when there is a temporary increase in the oxygen demand of your heart. Exercise, physical exertion, and emotional stress can all lead to increases in heart rate and blood pressure, temporarily increasing oxygen demands of your heart. A heart whose coronary arteries are diseased may not be able to get enough oxygen and this may lead to angina.

By the time you develop angina, there is probably at least one significant plaque in a coronary artery that is decreasing the coronary artery by at least 70%, and often by as much as 90-99%. It is possible that you may have several different blockages in your coronary arteries.

An Anginal Episode Is Not a Heart Attack
Angina patients are often concerned about the possibility of a heart attack. Many people with angina never have a heart attack, but their risk of having one is increased. They are twice as likely to have a heart attack as are people without angina. However, not all pain is angina or a heart attack.

An anginal episode is usually not life-threatening, but a heart attack is. A heart attack permanently damages some heart muscle, while angina does not.

Get to Know Your Angina
Get to know your angina:
  • Learn what kind of things cause you to have an anginal episode and what it feels like to you.

  • Know how long your episodes usually last.

  • Know whether rest or medication provides relief of your episodes.

  • As you get to know your condition, make sure you can recognize when something is different (which may imply a heart attack, some other problem, or nothing at all).
When to Get Help
We recommend that you get immediate help if there is a noticeable change in the pattern of your angina. In particular, get emergency medical assistance if your pain:
  • happens more often
  • comes on with less activity
  • lasts longer
  • isn't helped by your usual medication
  • happens at an unusual time
  • awakens you from sleep
  • seems more widespread or much more severe
  • feels different in other ways
If you suspect that you may be having a heart attack, get medical help immediately. Most of all, do not delay. Don't stop to talk it over with your spouse or friend while trying to decide whether it is or is not a heart attack. If you're frightened or in pain, you really can't know for sure. Don't be embarrassed if it's a false alarm. It's best to be safe. Don't let pride, vanity, or a desire to tough it out be the cause of your death.

Useful Links
  1. American Heart Association's Information on Angina Pectoris
    Use this site to learn what the American Heart Association has to say about angina pectoris. The site explain the definition of angina, when it occurs, its major risks, the difference between stable and unstable angina, and more.

  2. Facts about Angina
    See what National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has to say about angina, its diagnosis, its treatments, and about the life with angina. This brochure concentrates on living with and treatment of angina and is essential reading for anybody who wants to learn about this condition.

  3. Interactive Tutorial on Angina
    Those who would like to spend some time and find out everything they can about angina should use this interactive tutorial from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The tutorial covers the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment of angina as well as connection of angina to heart attack and more. Tutorial requires Flash plug- in for your browser.
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