|Coronary artery disease makes it difficult for the heart to get the oxygen it needs, which can slow you down and cause angina. Watch this animation to see what actually happens in your body when you experience angina. (Animation provided courtesy of Speak from the Heart www.SpeakFromTheHeart.com, a trademark of Gilead Sciences, Inc.)
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 Can Be 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. 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. Visit 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
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.
Although it is not a medical emergency like a heart attack, stable angina can be 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.
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.