Angina is the term for chest pain that comes from a lack of blood supply to your heart muscle. It may be a precursor of a heart attack. Angina is a squeezing, pressure, weight or feeling of heaviness in the central chest. The pain or sensation may radiate to the neck, jaw, shoulders, arms or back and sometimes is only felt in these areas. Angina is more often associated with the symptoms in the left arm rather than the right. Angina typically gets worse with exertion and better with rest or nitroglycerin tablets.
Certain conditions can increase your chance of heart disease. These conditions include:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol level
- menopause in women
- family members who have had heart disease before age 55
Some people have angina that comes on with a certain level of activity and goes away easily. They may have this kind of angina for a long time. This is called stable angina.
When the pattern of angina changes a lot – more severe, lasting longer, pain at rest, not responding to medication – or if it is the first episode, it's called unstable angina. Unstable angina may be the first sign of a heart attack. If you get angina, you should call your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room right away.
Doctors initially analyze a patient’s history (especially the description of the chest pain and the patient’s risk factors), the EKG and blood work called “cardiac enzymes” to determine if a patient has had a heart attack.