Angina, formally named angina pectoris, ia acute pain in the chest, usually described as a feeling of tightness, strangling, heaviness or suffocation. The pain is normally concentrated on the left side of the chest beginning just under the breastbone (sternum). Sometimes the pain moves to the neck, throat and lower jaw and down the left arm. Individuals experiencing this pain may feel like they are having a heart attack. Angina is a warning sign that the heart is under special stress and needs relief before a heart attack occurs.
Angina is caused by a decrease in the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart. This is usually caused by hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) in the heart blood vessels.
A person who believes they have angina should be under a doctor's care. The doctor will try to discover and treat the cause of the pain. The goals of treatment are to increase blood flow to the heart itself and to decrease the work the heart performs. Nitroglycerin is frequently used to treat angina. Patients are often told to notify their doctor if the nitroglycerin does not provide relief within 30 minutes. If pain is not relieved, the doctor usually wants to examine the patient right away. This may include calling 911 or an ambulance. When this happens, testing to rule out a heart attack may be necessary.
Angina is an important warning sign indicating that the heart muscle is not receiving enough blood and oxygen. The chest pain associated with angina can sometimes be mistaken for the chest pain of a heart attack. Patients with the new onset of angina should seek medical attention.
Related LinksNational Library of Medicine
The National Library of Medicine presents information and pictures about Angina Pectoris.