• Angina/Chest Pain

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    How do you pronounce it?

    You may hear it pronounced with the accent on the second syllable, and a long i: an-GI-na. Or you may hear it pronounced with the accent on the first syllable and a short i: AN-gi-na. Which is correct? Both. Equal numbers of people, and doctors use each pronunciation, and many use both.

    Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. And yet for so many, a heart attack seems like a bolt out of the blue. It isn’t. Heart disease develops over time and can affect you in many ways. A heart attack is just one way. Angina is another.

    Angina, or angina pectoris - its full name - is a medical term for the symptoms caused by the heart not getting enough oxygen from the coronary arteries (the arteries that supply the heart with blood). When the coronary arteries become narrowed or blocked over time - it’s called coronary artery disease, or CAD - and it can cause angina. Most commonly, people describe their symptoms of angina as chest discomfort or pain.

    Angina is stable or unstable.

    • Stable angina produces symptoms at a reliable level of exertion for the individual. For example, every time you walk more than five blocks or climb two flights of stairs, your chest hurts. It usually goes away when you stop to rest or take nitroglycerin (see our discussion of Angina Treatment). The amount of exertion it takes to bring on your angina will be different from one person to the next.
    • Unstable angina is more commonly associated with a heart attack. It is a change in your pattern of angina, or when you have your first episode of angina. It usually comes on suddenly with more severe pain or discomfort. It may come on even when you’re resting.

    Could It Be a Heart Attack?

    If you are having trouble breathing or are experiencing chest pain that lasts more than 5 minutes when you are sitting still or lying down, or if the symptoms go away and come back again, it could be unstable angina or a heart attack. Call 911 for immediate medical assistance.

    Delay in getting the proper care could permanently damage your heart and put your life at risk. See the SecondsCount Heart Attack Survival Guide to learn more about heart attack symptoms and what you should do if you think you or someone you know could be having a heart attack.

    Living with Stable Angina

    Although it is not a medical emergency like a heart attack, stable angina canbe very painful, too. It can make you feel anxious and interfere with your quality of life. Chest discomfort occurring with exertion can limit how active you are. Being inactive is not good for your health. Inactivity raises your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and subsequently heart disease. Your doctor can help you determine the cause of your angina and work with you to find a treatment to relieve your symptoms.

    Open and honest communication with your doctor and other healthcare professionals is an essential part of getting the best treatment. Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Angina is a downloadable tool that will help you get started. You should also consider Tracking Your Angina, a worksheet you can use to record and describe your angina as it happens, so your doctor will have the most accurate information possible during your next visit.

    Learn More about Angina

    If you’d like to learn more about angina, follow the links below:

    • Symptoms. Angina is one or more symptoms, such as chest pain and shortness of breath, that signal a problem with your heart. SecondsCount has information and tools that can help you record and describe your angina symptoms to your doctor and other members of your healthcare team to find the best treatment for you. Learn more...
    • Causes and Risk Factors. Angina is most often caused by coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis. Over time, atherosclerosis can cause arteries to become narrow or blocked, making it difficult for oxygen-rich blood to get to the heart. A treatment plan that includes lifestyle changes, medication, and in some cases interventional procedures can slow the disease and reduce pain and discomfort as well as your risk for heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease (PAD). Learn more…
    • Diagnosis. Your doctor may consider many factors and test results before diagnosing angina:  medical history; physical exam; and tests, such as electrocardiograms (EKGs), echocardiograms, stress tests, blood tests, CT coronary angiograms, and conventional coronary angiograms. You can help by providing as much information as possible and asking questions. SecondsCount provides tools such as the Tracking Your Angina and Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Angina to help you know what’s most important to share with your doctor. Learn more…
    • Treatment. The build-up of plaque in the arteries happens over time and continues throughout our lives. So far, there is no cure to dissolve these blockages. But we can slow the process by making changes in our habits, taking medication, and in some cases, using angioplasty and stents to open blockages that have narrowed arteries and caused angina. Communicate openly with your doctor to develop the best possible treatment plan for you to reduce your pain and discomfort, and to remain as active as possible.
    • Lifestyle Changes. Healthy habits such as eating right, not smoking, maintaining ideal body weight and exercising can make a big difference in managing the pain and discomfort of angina. SecondsCount offers information and tools to analyze your eating habits and quit smoking for good to support you in making these difficult but beneficial changes. Learn more…
    • Resources and Support. Living with angina can be very difficult, but giving up will not help. It’s difficult for anyone to help if they don’t know what’s wrong. If you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to turn, tell your doctor or other medical professional. You can also talk to friends and family for other suggestions. For more information and support, SecondsCount provides a list of other online resources. Learn more...

    If It’s Not Angina, What Is It?

    Other health problems and diseases have similar symptoms but are not angina. For example, anything from a pulled muscle to pneumonia can cause chest pain. But if you are not sure, check with your doctor. Click here for more information and a list of other problems that can feel like angina.