Chest pain, arm tingling, shortness of breath, being more tired and fatigued with usual activities - all may be signs that blood flow to your heart is becoming restricted or blocked.
The cause may be a build-up of fatty deposits, or plaque (pronounced "plak"), inside your arteries - the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from the heart to your body. When arteries become partly or completely blocked with plaque, atherosclerosis (pronounced ath-ERO-skla-RO-sis) occurs. It may be called hardening of the arteries.
When plaque builds up in arteries, it narrows the channel through which blood flows. When blood flow is restricted or completely blocked, the oxygen and nutrients your muscles and organs need to function are also restricted. And when muscles or the heart that are deprived of oxygen are placed under additional stress, such as during exertion, you may feel discomfort.
So when you feel chest pain or discomfort, which your doctor may call angina or angina pectoris, it may be because the heart muscle is not receiving sufficient blood flow.
Your doctor may describe your chest pain as "Unstable" or "stable" angina.
With unstable angina, also referred to as Acute Coronary Syndrome, chest pain and other symptoms of cardiovascular disease are worsening, becoming more frequent or occurring with less exertion.
If this is your situation, your doctor may adjust drug therapy to stabilize symptoms or may pursue other forms of testing and monitoring.
Depending on the ongoing evaluation, you may be sent to the catheterization lab for a heart catheterization and ultimately an angioplasty and/or a stent, procedures to open blockages in your arteries. Alternatively, if the blockages are more extensive or severe, you may be referred to a surgeon for coronary artery bypass surgery.
With stable angina, you have "predictable" symptoms - symptoms to which you have become accustomed. When you engage in physical activity at various levels of intensity, you have come to expect shortness of breath (more common in women than men), chest pressure, neck, jaw or shoulder pain. When you stop the activity, symptoms also cease.
If you have stable angina, your care team will:
- Ask you questions and listen carefully to your answers to understand your:
- Medical history
- Current symptoms and other current health conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension.