Angina refers to pain or discomfort in the chest. Angina is not a disease itself, but rather a symptom of another underlying heart problem.
Angina occurs when the heart doesn’t get all of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to work properly. This often happens when one or more of the arteries that feed the heart—the coronary arteries—are narrowed or blocked.
Angina typically causes pain or discomfort in the shoulders, arms, chest, neck, jaw or back. They may also feel short of breath, profoundly fatigued, nauseous or experience pain between their shoulder blades. Angina pain can also feel like indigestion the symptoms of angina can vary from person to person.
Angina is not a disease. It’s a symptom of an underlying heart condition. Often this condition is coronary heart disease (CHD), which occurs when plaque builds up in the heart’s arteries. Angina can also signal coronary microvascular disease: damage to the walls and lining of the blood vessels branching off from the arteries that provide blood to the heart.
Other conditions that can cause chest pain include:
Your doctor will first want to determine whether the angina is stable (a regular pattern of the heart overworking) or unstable (unexpected chest pain, that does not follow an expected pattern). Because unstable angina can signal a heart attack, your doctor may order the following tests:
Treatment for angina depends on the type and underlying cause. Lifestyle changes, medication and cardiac rehab may be used to treat stable angina and decrease your risk for heart attack.
If you have unstable angina, your doctor will first need to find the blocked parts of the coronary arteries by performing a cardiac catheterization. Depending on the extent of the blockages, you may need surgery.