Angina explained: 5 questions and answers about chest pain

August 30, 2016 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

No matter your age or gender, chest pain is the most common symptom of heart disease. Known medically as angina, it occurs when the heart muscle is temporarily blocked and deprived of receiving the blood and oxygen it needs. While unexplained chest pain may not always signal a heart attack, you should never ignore the symptoms.

Let’s review five questions and answers about chest pain.

  1. I’m too young for heart disease, right?

    Heart disease is the most prevalent cause of death among men 65 and older, which leads many younger men to believe they are immune to heart problems. Not true. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for all men.

    There are two types of angina – stable and unstable – which affect almost nine million Americans.

  2. What is stable angina?

    Stable angina occurs when your heart works harder due to exertion or mental or emotional stress. The pain usually goes away with rest because your heart no longer needs as much oxygen.

  3. What is unstable angina?

    Unstable angina occurs unexpectedly, due to coronary arteries that have been narrowed by plaque (fatty buildups). This reduces blood flow to the heart. Unstable angina may also come about when a clot partly or completely blocks your heart artery for a short period; the clot either breaks up on its own or with medication. If the clot persists, a heart attack may occur. Inflammation, infection and secondary causes can also lead to unstable angina.

  4. What should I do about angina?

    While angina pain may come and go, it is a sign that you have heart disease that can be treated. Your health care provider may give you nitroglycerin to relieve discomfort. It can come in tablet, spray, capsule skin patch or ointment form.

    Should you experience chest pain, and should that pain last more than five minutes or be accompanied by other heart attack symptoms (such as shortness of breath, weakness, nausea or lightheadedness), call 911 and seek help immediately.

    You may also change your way of life to address health risks that increase your chance of developing angina. That means do not smoke, eat healthy meals low in fats and salt, control high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, avoid extreme temperatures and strenuous activities, and learn to relax and manage stress.

  5. What other conditions might cause chest pain?

    Chest pain may be caused by any number of conditions including a gastrointestinal disorder such as gallbladder disease, peptic ulcer, a muscle spasm of the esophagus, or acid reflux. It may also signal another serious heart or lung issue, such as a tear in the wall of the aorta or a blood clot in the lung.

Learn more about heart screenings at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Find out if you’re at risk for heart disease.

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