Angina Pectoris: Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Angina Pectoris:  Definition, Symptoms & Treatment
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  • 0:03 What Is Angina?
  • 0:38 Causes of Angina
  • 2:03 Symptoms of Angina
  • 3:08 Diagnosing and Treating Angina
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Angina pectoris is characterized by chest pain - it can be very alarming the first time someone experiences it. Read this lesson to learn what causes angina, what the symptoms are, and how it is treated.

What Is Angina?

Angina pectoris, or simply angina, is chest pain that occurs when the heart isn't getting enough oxygenated blood. It's usually a symptom of coronary artery disease. The heart is a muscle that needs oxygen to function properly, and blood is responsible for carrying and delivering oxygen around the body. When the heart doesn't get enough blood, it doesn't get enough oxygen, and the resulting pain is the body's way of alerting there's a problem. Angina is not a heart attack but it does put the person at risk of having one.

Causes of Angina

What prevents the heart from getting adequate blood? The most common cause is a blockage somewhere in the coronary arteries, the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Arteries can narrow due to plaque deposits, and angina may be especially prevalent during physical exertion due to the heart's increased demand for oxygen. It may also occur if the coronary arteries are inflamed, infected, or injured.

A person is at higher risk of developing angina if they have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a history of heart disease, or a sedentary lifestyle. Other risk factors include smoking, obesity, age, and stress.

Stable angina is characterized by regular episodes of pain triggered by physical exercise or activity, smoking, eating large meals, or extreme temperatures. This occurs because the arteries have accumulated deposits, narrowing the pathway for blood to move through.

Unstable angina is characterized by sudden pain that doesn't go away on its own or respond to rest or medication. This type is caused by a blood clot that blocks the blood vessel, and it will cause a heart attack if the blockage isn't removed.

Variant angina is caused by a spasm in a coronary artery, causing it to temporarily narrow. This is a specific form of unstable angina that can occur at any time. No trigger event causes it to happen.

Symptoms of Angina

The most prominent symptom of angina is pain or pressure in the chest. It may feel like squeezing or a fullness in the middle of the chest, and it can radiate outward to the neck, jaw, shoulder, back, or arms.

With stable angina, episodes of pain are a regular occurrence and become predictable as triggers are identified. It normally lasts less than five minutes and goes away with rest and/or medication.

With unstable angina, the pain is different from that experienced with stable angina and is not predictable. It is sharper, unexpected (no trigger has been identified), and doesn't go away with rest or medication.

Variant angina causes sharp bursts of pain, often in the middle of the night. They can last up to 30 minutes but may respond to medication.

Other symptoms can include numbness or tingling, anxiety, fainting, dizziness, sweating, shortness of breath, pale skin, irregular heartbeat, nausea, or fatigue.

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