Some people may feel tingling or numbness in their arm,
hand, or jaw when they have angina.
See a picture of
areas that may be affected by angina .
How does angina happen?
Angina is often brought on by activities
that make the heart work harder, because the heart needs more oxygen than can
be delivered through the narrowed arteries. Some of these activities
- Strenuous exercise (especially if you ordinarily do not
- Use of cocaine or amphetamines.
- Exposure to cold temperatures.
- Sudden, intense emotions such as anger or fear.
- Eating a heavy meal.
Many people have
stable angina, which is predictable. It eases after
they rest or take nitroglycerin, a medicine that opens blood vessels to
improve blood flow. But if there is a change in the usual pattern of your
angina, you may have unstable angina. In unstable
angina, chest pain occurs at rest or with less and less exertion, may be more
severe and last longer, or doesn't respond to nitroglycerin. Because unstable
angina can progress to a heart attack, it requires medical attention right
For information about their differences, see
stable versus unstable angina. For information about
variant, or Prinzmetal's, angina and other kinds of angina, see
types of angina. For more information, see the topic
Heart Attack and Unstable Angina.
How do you know if chest pain is heart-related?
Chest pain can be a symptom of many
other conditions. For example, anxiety, inflammation
in or injury to the chest wall, or a blood clot in the lung can cause pain in
Chest pain and shortness of breath are more likely to
be serious and related to your heart if:
- They are like symptoms you have had before because of coronary
- You have risk factors for coronary artery disease.
Your chest pain is less likely to be
caused by a heart problem if:
- You can point to the exact spot that hurts.
- The pain gets worse when you take a deep breath, or holding your
breath for a few seconds reduces the pain significantly.
- The pain gets better or worse when you move or press on a
specific part of the chest wall, neck, or shoulder.
- Antacids dramatically relieve the pain.
- The pain lasts only a few seconds.
It's important to treat symptoms early to prevent permanent
damage to your heart. If any type of chest pain continues, it needs to be
checked by a doctor.
Because many vital organs are found in the
chest, even chest pain that is not caused by coronary artery disease may be a
sign of a serious problem in the aorta (the large blood vessel that leads out
of the heart), lungs, or digestive organs.