You may have heard the term “angina pectoris” (or “stable angina”). So, what is it, and what could it mean for you? It’s important to understand the basics.
Angina pectoris is the medical term for chest pain or discomfort due to coronary heart disease. It occurs when the heart muscle doesn't get as much blood as it needs. This usually happens because one or more of the heart's arteries is narrowed or blocked, also called ischemia.
Angina usually causes uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest. You may also feel the discomfort in your neck, jaw, shoulder, back or arm. (Many types of chest discomfort — such as heartburn, lung infection or inflammation — aren‘t related to angina.) Angina in women can be different than in men.
When does angina pectoris occur?
Angina often occurs when the heart muscle needs more blood than it's getting, such as during physical activity like climbing a hill or stairs, or when you're having strong emotions. Severely narrowed arteries may allow enough blood to reach the heart when the demand for oxygen is low, such as when you're sitting, but angina may also occur at rest.
- Occurs when the heart must work harder, usually during physical exertion.
- Doesn't come as a surprise, and episodes of pain tend to be alike.
- Usually lasts a short time (5 minutes or less).
- Is relieved by rest or medicine.
- May feel like gas or indigestion.
- May feel like chest pain that spreads to the arms, back or other areas.
Possible triggers of stable angina include:
- Emotional stress – learn stress management.
- Exposure to very hot or cold temperatures – learn how cold and hot weather affect the heart.
- Heavy meals.
- Smoking – learn more about quitting smoking.
People with stable angina have episodes of chest pain. The discomfort is usually predictable and manageable. You might experience it while running or if you’re dealing with stress.
Normally, this type of chest discomfort is relieved with rest, nitroglycerin or both. Nitroglycerin relaxes the coronary arteries and other blood vessels, reducing the amount of blood that returns to the heart and easing the heart’s workload. Relaxing the coronary arteries increases the heart’s blood supply.
Other medications may be prescribed to prevent angina from occurring, such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers. They lower blood pressure and heart rate and reduce the workload on the heart.
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers may be prescribed to help reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack due to coronary artery disease.
Additional medications may include statins and antiplatelet drugs. Statins reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and antiplatelet drugs help prevent blood clots from forming, both of which help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
If you experience chest discomfort, be sure to contact your health care team immediately to set up a complete evaluation and, possibly, tests. If you have stable angina and start getting chest pain more easily and more often, see your health care professional immediately. You may be experiencing early signs of unstable angina.