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What is angina?

  • Heart pain
  • Jaw pain
  • Chest pain

The arteries that supply blood to your heart are the coronary (KOR-uh-nair-ee) arteries. Over time, a build-up of cells, fat, or cholesterol can clog one or more of these arteries. This build-up is called plaque (PLAK). Clogged arteries prevent your heart from getting as much blood and oxygen as it needs.  is the chest pain or discomfort that occurs when your heart does not get enough blood and oxygen.

What does the name mean?

Angina” is short for “angina pectoris” (PECK-tor-iss). Its exact meaning is “choking sensation of the chest.” Angina usually starts as a constricting pain in the center of the chest. The pain may radiate to the jaw, neck, shoulders, back, and arms. Sometimes angina causes only jaw pain, shoulder pain, or pain in the upper abdomen.

What does angina feel like?

The degree of angina pain varies. It may feel like just a little pressure. It may feel like burning, squeezing pressure. Sometimes angina is confused with indigestion because the tight, burning sensations are similar. Angina may feel like intense, heavy pressure that has been described as “an elephant sitting on my chest.”

The discomfort may spread to the neck, jaw, arms, or back. Numbness or tingling may occur in the shoulders, arms, wrists, or elbows. If you have any of these symptoms for the first time, you should get emergency care.

When does angina occur?

Angina can occur in a variety of situations. Angina may occur while you are doing things like climbing stairs, carrying groceries, or working in extremely hot or cold weather. It may occur during sex or during exercise. Angina may also occur during emotional stress, for example, when you feel angry or upset.

How is the cause of angina found?

A number of tests are available to help the doctor find the cause of your angina. You may need to have more than one test. The testing may include blood tests, an EKG (electro-cardiogram), treadmill tests, and cardiac catheterization.

How is angina treated?

Your doctor may prescribe nitroglycerin(NI-tro-GLISS-er-in). This medicine is safe; it is not habit forming. It comes in several different forms:

  • Tablet (placed under the tongue)
  • Spray (used under the tongue)
  • Capsule (taken by mouth)
  • Patch (worn on the skin)

Sometimes another medicine is prescribed. Whatever is prescribed, a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist will tell you how to use your medicine properly.

What can I do about angina?

You can help lower your chances of having angina attacks by making a few lifestyle changes:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Eat healthy, low-fat meals.
  • Learn to relax and manage stress.
  • Avoid extreme hot and cold.
  • Avoid strenuous activities.

When should I call the doctor?

Call your doctor if the pattern of your angina changes. For example, it becomes more severe or occurs more often.

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