Angina is a type of chest pain that occurs when there is reduced blood flow to the heart. This pain is one of the common symptoms of coronary heart disease, and it is most often described as squeezing, pressure, heaviness, tightness, or pain in the chest. Coronary heart disease is brought on by a narrowing of the arteries due to a build-up of fatty deposits, or plaques.
Also called angina pectoris, angina can come on suddenly and acutely, or it can be a recurring problem. The pain is relatively common among older people, but it can be difficult to distinguish from other ailments that cause chest pain, like indigestion or heartburn. Seek medical attention right away if you experience unexplained chest pain, as this may signal a heart condition or a heart attack.
Even if you have coronary heart disease, you may not experience angina at all times. When the body is resting, there is a low demand for oxygen-rich blood to the heart and the muscle can function normally with the lowered amount of blood that it is getting. When the body is active, however, the heart needs more oxygen-rich blood and it cannot get by with reduced blood flow. This will result in angina. There are three classifications of angina:
• Stable angina: Occurs when the heart is not getting the required amount of oxygen. Physical exertion, emotional stress, cold temperatures, heavy eating, and smoking can cause this form of angina.
• Unstable angina: If fatty deposits in a blood vessel rupture or a blood clot forms, blood flow to the heart can be quickly and dramatically reduced. Unstable angina can also be caused by severe anemia, especially when you already have narrowed arteries. If left untreated, unstable angina will result in a heart attack.
• Variant angina: Accounting for about 2 percent of angina cases, variant angina is caused by a spasm in a coronary artery, which causes the artery to narrow temporarily. This type of angina is also called Prinzmetal’s angina.
Angina may come and go, but it is a dangerous symptom of a greater health problem.
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