Heart Attack Symptoms Angina

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), angina is chest pain or discomfort that is caused by coronary heart disease. Angina, also called angina pectoris, is a painful condition that affects approximately 7 million Americans. Understanding the causes and symptoms of this condition is important, as angina increases a person’s risk of experiencing both heart attack and heart failure.

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. Angina also tends to affect different races differently. African-Americans and Mexican-Americans are more likely to develop angina than Caucasians. However, whether this discrepancy is due to genetics or cultural lifestyle differences is not fully understood.

Angina: The Cause

Angina results when blood flow to the heart is restricted. When a person’s heart isn’t getting enough blood, it isn’t getting sufficient amounts of oxygen, which causes chest pain and other symptoms of angina.

Often, reduced blood flow to the heart is caused by atherosclerosis, which occurs when fat and cholesterol builds up in the arteries leading to the heart. This build up obstructs blood flow.

Types of Angina

There are two types of angina: stable and unstable:

  • In people with stable angina, angina episodes are generally predictable and occur mostly after exertion or mental or emotional stress.
  • In people with unstable angina, pain is generally unexpected and occurs most often at rest.

Angina: The Classic Symptoms

When a person’s heart isn’t receiving sufficient amounts of blood, chest pain, the most common angina symptom, results. People who have angina often describe the chest pain as severe and crushing, as if a fist is clenching the heart.

Chest pain most often results when people are physically exerting themselves or when they are experiencing stress. It can also be triggered by anger.

Angina symptoms often resemble the symptoms of a heart attack, which can make them very scary for the sufferer. However, it is important to note that angina symptoms generally last for only one to 10 minutes. Chest pain resulting from a heart attack may last for several hours. Also, many people’s angina symptoms will diminish after they take medication or rest. Heart attack symptoms will not subside after rest or after taking angina medication.

If you experience angina symptoms that last for more than a few minutes or that are not alleviated by medication or rest, you should call 911 or seek medical assistance immediately, as you could be having a heart attack.

In addition to chest pain, a person with angina may experience the following symptoms:

  • anxiety
  • burning and/or heavy feeling in the chest
  • chest pain that extends to the jaw, back and/or shoulders
  • indigestion
  • nausea
  • numbness or tingling in the fingers
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating.

Complications of Angina

Angina is painful but usually is not life-threatening. However, people need to be aware that angina is often indicative of the presence of coronary artery disease (CAD). If left untreated, CAD will progress, causing further damage to the heart and a number of health complications.

A person who experiences angina symptoms has an increased risk of developing:

  • heart arrhythmias
  • heart attack
  • heart failure
  • stroke.

Resources

American Heart Association (2007). Angina Pectoris. Retrieved October 23, 2007, from the American Heart Association Web site: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4472.

eHealthMD (n.d.). Angina Pectoris. Retrieved October 23, 2007, from the eHealthMD Web site: http://www.ehealthmd.com/library/angina/ANG_whatis.html.

Mayo Clinic Staff (June 29, 2007). Angina. Retrieved October 23, 2007, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/angina/DS00994/DSECTION=1.