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Angina Angina
Angina is not a disease but a symptom. It is the most common symptom of coronary artery disease. Over 10 million Americans... Angina

by Kimberly Allen, RN

Angina is not a disease but a symptom.  It is the most common symptom of coronary artery disease.  Over 10 million Americans suffer from angina with another 500,000 new cases being diagnosed every year.  Angina occurs as a symptom of coronary artery disease more often in women than men.  There are several conditions that can increase your risk of developing angina including diabetes and hypertension as well as high cholesterol or triglyceride levels.  People that are already diagnosed with coronary artery disease or have a family history of heart disease have a greater risk of developing angina than those that don’t.  The risk of developing angina increase with age, men over the age of 45 have a greater risk than younger men while women’s risk increase after 55 years of age.  Certain lifestyles and environmental factors can also increase your risk of developing angina.  People that are sedentary and over weight, especially obese significantly increase their risk of developing angina as do those people that smoke and have poor stress management.angina
Angina is a type of chest pain.  It is caused by diminished blood flow carrying much needed oxygen to the heart muscle.  The heart muscle requires a steady supply of fresh oxygen in order for the tissue to survive.  The most common cause of poor blood flow to the heart is coronary artery disease.  Coronary artery disease is a condition in which the arteries that feed your heart, known as the coronary arteries, are narrowed or blocked by plaque and fatty build up in the arterial walls.  so why  is it if your coronary arteries are narrowed that you don’t have constant angina?  During times of rest or reduced activity your heart requires less oxygen and is usually able to function with the lower amount of oxygen provided without triggering  the angina.
Angina is characterized as either stable angina or unstable angina.  Stable angina generally occurs during periods of physical exertion.  For example when you exercise, walk or even climbing the stairs.  These are times when the heart requires more oxygen, however with the arteries narrowed the blood containing oxygen has difficulty getting through.  Unstable angina develops when the fatty plaques in your coronary arteries rupture or forms a blood clot that can suddenly block or significantly impair the blood flow to your heart muscle. In addition to coronary artery disease unstable angina can also be caused by certain conditions like severe anemia.  With unstable angina the pain worsens, neither rest nor your regular medications relieve the pain.  Unstable angina is considered extremely dangerous requiring immediate medical attention.  There is also one other type of angina called Prinzmetal’s angina.  This type of angina is caused by spasms in the coronary arteries which causes the artery to narrow temporarily.  This type is much  less common and occurs in only approximately 2% of all angina cases.
Most people with angina describe it as an aching, burning, heaviness, fullness, painful pressure or squeezing sensation.  generally angina is felt in your chest, however, you can also experience angina in your shoulders and arms as well as your jaw, neck and back.
Today there are a wide variety of options available for treating angina.  these range from lifestyle changes and medications to angioplasty and stenting as well as coronary artery bypass surgery.  The main goal of treatment is to decrease the severity and frequency of your angina as well as reduce your risk of heart attack and death.  the type of treatment you receive will depend on the severity of your angina, is it stable or unstable and your overall health.  Most doctors will prefer to start with the least invasive treatments first when possible.  Your doctor will discuss the options available and help you decide upon a treatment plan that meets your individual needs.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at