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Angina Pectoris

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Last updated October 28, 2021

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What is angina pectoris?

Angina (or angina pectoris) is pain in the chest caused by coronary artery disease (CAD). Pain in the chest is an extremely common symptom. Many things besides heart disease can cause chest pain, including tension in the muscles of the chest wall, gastroesophageal reflux, and pleurisy (lung inflammation).

It is important to distinguish angina pectoris from other causes of chest pain because it is treated differently. Many people who have chest pain worry that they may have a heart condition, but only a minority of people with chest pain do.

Symptoms

Angina is a sensation of pressure, aching, or burning in the middle of the chest. It commonly occurs during physical exercise, emotional stress, and exposure to cold temperatures, or after big meals.

When arteries are severely narrowed (more than 80%), angina can also occur at rest.

  • The discomfort typically starts underneath the breastbone (sternum). it may spread up into the neck, jaw, and shoulders (usually the left shoulder) and even down the arm.
  • The pain is usually not sharp, but more a sense of pressure or squeezing.
  • Sometimes, it is just an uncomfortable sensation, not really a pain.
  • It’s common to also feel a sense of anxiety or uneasiness.

Angina is not affected by the position of your body or by taking a deep breath, whereas other causes of chest pain, such as pleurisy or pericarditis, often are.

Usually, an attack of angina lasts just a few minutes. If it has been triggered by exertion, it usually goes away within a few minutes when you rest. When pain lasts more than 20 minutes, it could indicate a heart attack.

If you have this type of pain and it lasts more than 20 minutes, call 911.

Treatment

You should see a doctor within the next 24 hours. Your doctor will perform a thorough physical exam as well as an EKG (electrocardiogram) to see how your heart is beating. They may order other tests, like an exercise stress test.

Prescription medication may be used to relax blood vessels, easing the heart's workload. A referral to a cardiologist might be needed.

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