Identifying and Understanding Angina Symptoms

Experiencing chest pains doesn’t have to be a major cause for concern, but if those pains are especially pronounced and sharp then it’s best to seek medical attention. Coronary blockages present a very deadly risk to people who have them developing in their arteries. If they do develop to the extent that oxygen-rich blood can’t flow into your heart, then you’re in big trouble. Feeling pressure or squeezing in the chest can be confused with an oncoming heart attack, but it is more likely angina. Angina symptoms are not difficult to recognize, but it’s important to not think you’re ‘off the hook’ as far as more major health risks just because you have angina.

That’s because many physicians agree that angina is often a warming sign that you have the early stages of heart disease. But let’s begin at the start and discuss what is angina exactly.

What is Angina, and Angina Pectoris?

The chest pain of angina is caused by insufficient quantities of blood flowing to part of your heart. The reason it is unable to receive enough blood is because of something (most often plaque) blocking the arteries or – less frequently – it’s caused by decreased blood flow. The chest pain that characterizes angina is because of this impeded blood flow.

Angina pectoris is one the 3 types of angina, and it’s also known as stable angina. Angina pectoris is the most commonly experienced of the 3 types. It usually lasts for a very short period of time, and subsides when the person ceases activity and rests. It is often a sign that a heart attack is not far off, and accordingly it’s important to see a doctor and tell him or her of your situation.

The next type is unstable angina. The chest pains here can come on without being prompted by activity or stress, and the pain can last a long time and recur. Unstable angina can be regarded as a sign that a heart attack is even more imminent than is the case with angina pectoris, so again it’s important to see a physician without delay when these angina symptoms are experienced.

The last one is variant angina (aka Prinzmetal’s angina), and it’s extremely uncommon. It comes on very quickly, and causes extreme chest pain. The intensity of variant angina would prompt anyone to see a physician as soon as possible, so it certainly isn’t something that might be overlooked like stable or unstable angina.

Angina Causes

Angina most often results from the early stages of heart disease. As plaque builds up in the arteries, blood is blocked from flowing to the heart muscle. The heart is forced to work with an insufficient supply of oxygen, and this is the source of the pain that is at the forefront of angina symptoms.

However, there can be other angina causes as well. They include:

  • Pulmonary embolism – a blockage in a major artery of the lungs
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – an enlarged or thickened heart
  • Aortic stenosis – narrowing of a valve in the main part of the heart
  • Aortic dissection – tearing in the walls of the aorta
  • Pericarditis – swelling of the sac around the heart

Angina Symptoms

We’ve already established that unexplained chest pain and tightness is the primary one of all angina symptoms. Angina sufferers will also have pain behind their breastbone, and for some people this pain will radiate outward to their shoulders, arms, neck, throat, jaw, or back. Some people make the mistake of thinking their angina symptoms are heartburn or gas. Women also report that this pain can move their belly as well, and it’s believed that the pressure sensation that can come with angina is more pronounced for women too.

The common angina symptoms are:

  • Burning
  • Aching
  • Discomfort
  • Fullness feelings in the chest
  • Heaviness
  • Pressure
  • Back-to-front squeezing of chest sensation

Angina Treatment

Typically, a physician will prescribe a course of medication for treating angina, and often this goes along with recommended lifestyle changes. Eating better and exercising more regularly to lower body weight and reduce LDL cholesterol is very beneficial. Common medications for angina include Ranexa, Toprol, Nitrostat, and Norvasc.

Recommended lifestyle changes for relieving angina include stopping smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet, using stress-relieving practices like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga, and engaging in more vigorous cardiovascular exercise.

If medication and lifestyle changes are not effective enough to reduce angina symptoms, then surgery becomes the next option. Surgical procedures to relieve angina include:

  • Angioplasty – Also known as ‘stenting’, this involves a tiny tube with a balloon inside being run through a blood vessel and up into the heart. The balloon is then inflated to widen the artery, restore blood flows, and relieve angina symptoms. Occasionally a small tube called a stent may be left in the artery to help keep it open.
  • Coronary artery bypass grafting – This involves the surgeon taking healthy arteries or veins from another part of your body and using them to go around the blood vessels that are blocked and causing angina symptoms. This is major surgery, however, and the fact that it results in a prolonged recovery time for patients means doctors will only use it if less invasive treatment options are ineffective and a person’s increasing angina symptoms are an indication of advancing coronary disease.