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What is Angina Anyway?

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Angina related image Photo: Getty Images

Have you recently been diagnosed with angina? Perhaps you have a family member or friend who’s living with angina and you’d just like to understand more about it and what it means to live with it. Is it the same thing as heart disease or a heart attack? What is angina anyway?

To better understand angina, you need to understand what it is -- and what it isn’t. Firstly, angina isn’t heart disease. Rather, it’s a symptom that serves as a red flag to more serious underlying heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, also known as CAD or heart disease, coronary microvascular disease, or MVD.

CAD occurs when plaque builds up in arteries causing them to narrow and reduce and in some instances block the amount of normal blood flow. This narrowing or blockage may lead to blood clots, heart attack, and even death. Unlike CAD, MVD affects only small coronary arteries, is more common in women than men and does not cause narrowing or blockage.

Approximately seven million people in the United States alone have angina. These numbers aren’t really surprising given the fact that heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. Similar to symptoms of a heart attack, angina is characterized by feelings of “pressure or squeezing in the chest.”

Other symptoms may include pain in other areas such as the neck, jaw, shoulders, back, arms, or feelings of indigestion, nausea, unnatural fatigue, general weakness, sweating, light-headedness, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Women are more likely than men to experience pain in the back, stomach, neck, jaw, or throat.

There are four main types of angina -- stable, unstable, variant (Prinzmetal’s) and microvascular. It’s important to know which type of angina you suffer from because the symptoms, underlying causes and treatment may vary depending on the angina type.

*Stable: the most common; the heart works harder than normal; has regular, predictable pattern of when pain occurs and how severe it will be; indicates potential future heart attack; triggered by physical exertion, stress, smoking, heavy meals and extremes in temperature.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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