Angina (or angina pectoris) is caused when the heart muscle is deprived of important nutrients and oxygen. Many times this is referred to as “chest pain”, although other symptoms such as shortness of breath or nausea may be present.
Symptoms vary dependent on many factors including gender, age, other conditions or the type of angina a person may suffer from. The appearance of angina symptoms indicates that Coronary Artery Disease or CAD is present. Angina is a serious medical condition and anyone experiencing any symptoms should seek better medical advice immediately.
Blood Circulation to the Heart
The heart is located in the upper chest, just left of the breastbone. While the heart is responsible for pumping nutrient and oxygen enriched blood to the rest of the body, it also requires nutrients and oxygen to function normally. This is accomplished by the flow of blood through the coronary arteries. If any slowing or interruption in this flow occurs, the heart is deprived of the nutrients and oxygen it requires, thus causing the symptoms of angina.
Stable angina is a feeling of chest pain or pressure. Atherosclerosis or hardened arteries causes the coronary arteries to become narrowed or completely blocked. Symptoms generally occur during activity or when under stress. It is usually predictable – certain amounts or types of activity cause chest pain and discomfort. Symptoms last up to 15 minutes, and are relieved when resting or through use of a medication called nitroglycerin. Most patients with stable angina report a greater occurrence during the morning hours.
Unstable angina is more serious than the stable type. Those people who experience this type of angina are at a higher risk for suffering heart attacks. Symptoms of unstable angina are similar to the stable type, but chest pain or pressure develops suddenly and is not relieved by rest. The discomfort becomes worse with time, lasts more than 15 minutes and nitroglycerin tablets are not helpful. If you are experiencing any form of angina, chest pain or pressure, you should go to your doctor.
Prinzmetal’s or Variant Angina
This form of angina is rare – less than 2% of people with angina have this type and it typically affects a younger population than other types. Prinzmetal’s angina is caused by the occurrence of spasms within the arteries. Causes are usually cold weather outings, medications, smoking or use of cocaine. The pain is described as extremely severe and subside when resting. Attacks are usually at night or the very early morning. The use of nitroglycerin relieves Prinzmetal’s angina pain.
This type of angina is the result of disease within the smallest arteries that supply blood to the heart. It most often strikes post-menopausal women, those with diabetes or high blood pressure and there is usually a family history of heart disease. The discomfort is described as severe and is usually accompanied by sleep difficulties, excessive fatigue and low energy levels. Episodes generally occur during normal daily activities or times of emotional stress.