- What is angina?
- What is unstable angina?
- What does angina feel like?
- What causes angina?
- Living with angina
What is angina?
Angina is the term given to chest discomfort that happens when the blood supply to your heart becomes restricted. It is a symptom of coronary heart disease, not an illness in itself. Angina is your heart's way of complaining that it is not getting enough oxygen during physical exertion or stress.
This temporary shortage of oxygen (called an 'angina attack') to your heart muscle does not result in permanent damage to your heart. It usually passes when you stop the activity that brought it on or after taking GTN tablets or spray. Many people learn to recognise how much activity will bring on their angina. This is called stable angina.
- If you have unexplained chest pain then you must seek urgent medical advice as you will need an assessment of your overall health.
What is unstable angina?
- Unstable angina happens when the blood supply to the heart is severely restricted and angina attacks occur more frequently, with less and less activity.
- Attacks may even occur at rest or wake you from sleep and may last for up to 10 minutes. This type of chest pain can happen at rest or during the night.
- Unstable angina can be undiagnosed chest pain or a sudden worsening of existing angina. You should see your doctor urgently. It is likely that you will be admitted to hospital or referred to a Rapid Access Chest Pain Clinic for assessment.
Sometimes, when chest pain occurs suddenly it is unclear if it is due to unstable angina or a heart attack. Until tests confirm the diagnosis doctors sometimes call this Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS).
What does angina feel like?
Chest pain can sometimes start off as a dull pain or ache. It's sometimes described as heaviness, burning, tightness, constriction or squeezing sensation, a heavy weight or pressure. For some people chest pain can feel similar to indigestion or heartburn.
- How angina feels for you depends on the position of the narrowed artery(s) and how severe the narrowing is. This accounts for the wide range of possible symptoms.
When you make demands on your heart by increasing your heart rate during physical activity, or when you are upset or angry, the narrowed arteries cannot supply your heart muscle with oxygen quickly enough and pain develops. This is your heart's way of telling you that you need to take a rest.
Remember that not all chest pain is caused by coronary heart disease. Other causes of chest pain include:
- Joint or muscle pain
- Lung disorders
- Stomach problems
- Gall bladder problems
What causes angina?
The build up of atheroma in the coronary arteries leads to coronary heart disease. There are a range of risk factors which have been proven to cause, or contribute to, coronary heart disease.
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