UNDERSTANDING ANGINA PECTORIS
Angina pectoris is the medical term for chest pain or discomfort usually due to coronary artery disease. It occurs when the heart muscle doesn't get as much blood, and therefore as much oxygen, as it needs. This usually happens because one or more of the heart's arteries has become narrowed or blocked.
During a typical angina attack, a person feels uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest. This discomfort may also be felt in the neck, jaw, shoulder, back, or arm.
When Does Angina Pectoris Occur?
Angina is a signal that the heart needs more blood. Exercise, strong emotions, or extreme temperatures can trigger an attack. Some people, such as those who experience coronary artery spasm, may have an angina attack even when they're resting.
In stable angina, episodes of chest discomfort are usually predictable. They can occur during exertion (such as running to catch a bus) or during mental or emotional stress. Normally, the chest discomfort is relieved with rest, nitroglycerin, or both. If you have recurring episodes of chest discomfort, you should see your doctor for an evaluation.
In unstable angina, chest pain can occur at any time—often while a person is resting. The discomfort may be more severe and last longer than in typical angina. The most common cause is reduced blood flow to the heart muscle because the coronary arteries are narrowed by fatty buildups.
Variant Angina Pectoris
Variant angina pectoris can happen at any time. Unlike typical angina, it nearly always occurs when a person is resting. Attacks can be very painful and usually happen between midnight and 8AM.
Variant angina is caused by spasms in the coronary arteries. About two-thirds of people with variant angina have severe coronary blockages in at least one major vessel. The spasm usually occurs very close to the blockage.
References: 1. What is angina? U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—National Institutes of Health. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, Diseases and Conditions Index. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov. Accessed May, 2010. 2. Heart disease guide. Heart disease and angina (chest pain). Web MD. http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-angina?page=2. Updated March 7, 2009. Accessed May 18, 2010. 3. Haber MD, Brunell TA. Angina pectoris. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/761889-print. Updated 2010. Accessed September 28, 2010.