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Angina (Chest Pain)

What Is Angina?

If you have a feeling of pressure or a squeezing in your chest, it may be angina. It can feel like a heart attack, but often it's a warning sign from your heart.

There's a lot you can do to stop it from happening. Usually, medicine along with lifestyle changes can control angina. If it's more severe, you may need surgery, too. Or you may need a stent, a tiny tube that props open arteries.

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The chest pain you feel with angina happens because there isn't enough blood flowing to part of your heart. It's a symptom of heart disease, and it's caused when something blocks the arteries that bring oxygen-rich blood to your heart.

Angina usually goes away quickly, but it can be a symptom of a life-threatening heart problem. Call your doctor if you have angina. It's important to find out what's going on and to talk about what you can do to avoid a heart attack in the future.

There are different types of angina:

Stable angina is the most common. Physical activity or stress can trigger it. It usually lasts a few minutes, and it goes away when you rest. It isn't a heart attack, but it's a sign that you're more likely to have one in the future. Tell your doctor if this happens to you.

Unstable angina. It happens while you're at rest or not very active. The pain can be strong and long lasting, and can come back again and again. It can be a signal that you're about to have a heart attack, so see a doctor right away.

Prinzmetal's angina (also called variant angina) is rare. It might happen at night during sleep or while at rest. The heart arteries suddenly tighten or narrow. It can cause a lot of pain, and you should get it treated.

Causes

Angina is usually caused by heart disease. A fatty substance called plaque builds up in the arteries, blocking blood flow to the heart muscle. This forces the heart to work with less oxygen, and that causes pain. You may also have blood clots in the arteries of your heart, which can cause heart attacks.

Other less common causes of chest pain include:

  • A blockage in a major artery of the lungs (pulmonary embolism)
  • An enlarged or thickened heart (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy)
  • Narrowing of the valve in the main part of the heart (aortic stenosis)
  • Swelling of the sac around the heart (pericarditis)
  • Tearing in the wall of the aorta, the largest artery in your body (aortic dissection)

 

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