Angina Symptoms

The American Heart Association (AHA) defines angina as “a medical term for chest pain or discomfort due to coronary heart disease.” The AHA estimates that over 6.8 million Americans experience angina symptoms. Angina is a painful condition indicating the presence of coronary artery disease, and increasing the risk of heart attack and heart failure.

Causes of Angina

Angina, or angina pectoris, is caused by myocardial ischemia: restricted blood flow to the heart. Reduced blood flow lowers the amount of oxygen available to the heart, resulting in chest pain and other angina symptoms.

Atherosclerosis is usually to blame for myocardial ischemia. Atherosclerosis occurs when fat and cholesterol plaques build up in the coronary arteries and obstruct blood flow to the heart.

Classic Angina Symptoms

Low blood flow to the heart results in chest pain, the most common angina symptom. Chest pain is severe, and patients often describe it as “crushing,” or as if a fist had clenched the heart. People who suffer from angina symptoms usually have chest pain with physical exertion or during emotional stress. Anger is a classic angina trigger.

Angina symptoms resemble those of a heart attack. However, angina symptoms usually last only one to five minutes, while chest pain from a heart attack may last for hours. Angina symptoms normally diminish after resting or taking angina medications. Heart attack symptoms do not improve with rest, and angina medication will not reduce heart attack chest pain. If your angina symptoms persist for longer than a few minutes, or are not relieved by resting, you may be having a heart attack and you should seek immediate emergency heart attack treatment.

In addition to chest pain, angina symptoms may include:

  • a “burning” feeling in the chest
  • a heavy feeling in the chest
  • anxiety
  • chest pain that radiates to the jaw, back, or shoulders
  • indigestion
  • nausea
  • numb or tingling fingers
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating.

Angina Complications: Heart attack, Heart Failure and Arrhythmia

Angina is painful, but not usually life threatening. However, angina symptoms indicate the presence of coronary artery disease (CAD). Without treatment CAD progresses, further damaging the heart and causing a number of complications. Angina symptoms increase the risk of developing:

  • heart attack
  • heart failure
  • stroke
  • arrhythmias.

American Heart Association Angina Statistics

The American Heart Association’s 2004 update on heart and stroke statistics reports that 6.8 million Americans live with angina symptoms. Although heart problems are typically considered a male disease, women account for 4.2 million cases of angina, compared to 2.6 million cases in men.

The AHA also notes that ethnicity affects angina rates. African-Americans and Mexican-Americans are more likely to develop angina than Caucasians. Whether this discrepancy is due to genetics or cultural lifestyle differences is not yet clear.

Resources

American Heart Association. (nd). Heart and stroke facts. Retrieved January 29, 2004, from www.americanheart.org/downloadable/heart/1056719919740HSFacts2003text.pdf.

Reuter’s Health. (2004). Viagra may be okay for men with chest pain: Study. Retrieved February 2, 2004, from www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_15477.html.