Understanding Angina: Causes and Symptoms


Angina refers to the chest pain you experience if your heart does not receive enough blood. It isn’t a cardiovascular disease in and of itself, but rather is a symptom of another problem. Whenever you experience angina, it’s important to see your doctor right away to diagnose the underlying cause and get treatment.

What Causes Angina?

Most cases of angina are caused by coronary heart disease, the most common form of heart disease in the U.S. In people with coronary heart disease, plaque builds up inside of the coronary arteries, which are responsible for bringing oxygenated blood to the heart. This buildup causes the arteries to narrow, which can disrupt the flow of blood. Plaque also increases the risk of blood clots. If a clot forms, it can stop the flow of blood completely, causing a heart attack. Some cases of angina are caused by a condition called coronary microvascular disease. This disease impacts the tiny coronary arteries. With coronary microvascular disease, the walls of the tiny arteries are diseased or damaged, but plaque does not build up in these arteries as it does with the large arteries involved in coronary heart disease.

What Are the Symptoms?

The most common symptom of angina is pain in the chest. This pain may feel like pressure, burning, squeezing, or tightness. Angina pain usually starts around the breastbone but can radiate to the arms and shoulders. It is sometimes confused with indigestion. Some people experience nausea, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness along with pain. The exact pattern of symptoms depends on the type of angina. Stable angina is predictable and usually occurs after physical activity. Unstable angina is unpredictable and may occur when you’re at rest. Unstable angina pain lasts longer and is more likely to signal an impending heart attack.

Seek emergency care at West Hills Hospital & Medical Center if you experience chest pain. Fast emergency care during a heart attack can save lives. To learn more about our West Hills hospital services, including cancer care, our Burn Center, spine care, and maternity care, call (818) 676-4000.

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