Angina is chest pain or discomfort that results from coronary artery disease. It often feels like pressure or squeezing in the chest. Captain Miller, what can you tell us about angina?
Well, Dr. Mansfield, angina pain typically lasts only a few minutes. While most people experience angina as pressure in the chest, pain can also occur in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. For some, angina pain may even feel like indigestion.
There are two main types of angina caused by coronary artery disease: stable angina and unstable angina.
Stable angina, which is most common, occurs when the heart is working harder than usual due to physical activity, emotional stress, or smoking. This type of angina has a regular pattern, meaning there's little variation in how often the pain occurs, how severe it is, and what factors trigger it. A person with stable angina can learn the pattern and predict when the pain will occur. The pain usually goes away within a few minutes of resting or taking angina medication.
Unstable angina, also called acute coronary syndrome, doesn't follow a pattern. It may occur more often and be more severe than stable angina, and it may not be triggered by a specific factor, like physical exertion or stress. In many cases, rest or medication may not be able to relieve the pain. Unstable angina is very dangerous and requires emergency treatment. It's a sign that plaque in the artery has ruptured, and a blood clot has partially or totally blocked an artery, which means a heart attack may happen soon.
A third type of angina, called variant or Prinzmetal's angina, is caused by a spasm in a coronary artery. Variant angina can occur both in people who have coronary artery disease and in those who don't.