Angina refers to discomfort or pain that often occurs in the chest, but it can also occur in the shoulder, arm, jaw or other parts of the body. Angina isn’t a disease; rather, it’s a symptom of a possible underlying heart problem, such as coronary artery disease.
The coronary arteries are responsible for carrying blood to the heart, and all is well when blood is flowing freely through them. But when the blood flow through the coronary arteries is restricted, often because of plaque buildup on the artery walls, then the heart can become deprived of oxygen. Angina is a warning sign that something is wrong with your heart.
Not only is angina painful in and of itself, but it’s also a warning of other possibly life-threatening complications. Angina could indicate the possible presence of coronary heart disease or coronary microvascular disease or an increased risk for a heart attack, among other concerns.
Causes of Angina
People with a family history of heart problems are more likely than others to develop angina, but a number of controllable lifestyle factors also play a role. For example, obesity, high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure increase the risk for angina. So do smoking, diabetes, inactivity and eating an unhealthy diet. Making changes to some of these areas of life, however, can help prevent angina in the future or help manage it should it occur.
Angina is a serious heart symptom that needs to be monitored by a health-care professional. Anyone who experiences angina pain should see a doctor immediately. There are medications that can control the pain and discomfort related to angina, and a doctor can also assess the risk for other complications related to heart health.
SOURCES: U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; American Heart Association