Heart attack—or, myocardial infarction—happens when the blood supply to the heart muscle (that’s the myocardium) is severely reduced or stopped. This is typically caused by a blockage in at least one of the arteries feeding the heart.
That blockage usually builds over time through the process described earlier called atherosclerosis. As fatty deposits—as in cholesterol/plaque—build inside the artery walls, they can burst and cause a blood clot to form. This blocks the artery and blood flow and damages the heart muscle. In time, heart muscle cells die, causing permanent damage and cardiac arrest. At that point, every second counts. Call 911 and get emergency care immediately if you or someone you know experience the symptoms of a heart attack.
If you have chronic stable angina (also known as “angina”), you are not alone. There are approximately 9 million people in the United States with chronic angina.
Angina—pain or discomfort in the chest or other areas of the body—is usually caused by blocked arteries in the heart. Plaque builds up over time in the arteries, which as we know is called coronary heart disease (CHD) or coronary artery disease (CAD) .
In CHD, the arteries of the heart become stiff and narrow, making it difficult for oxygen-rich blood to reach your heart muscle. The lack of oxygen can cause the discomfort of angina. Angina is your heart’s way of telling you it needs more oxygen.
Triggers of Angina
Episodes of angina are usually brought on by one of the four “E’s”—exercise, emotional stress, eating too much, or exposure to extreme cold. Angina usually goes away with rest or nitroglycerin, medicine used to open blood vessels. If you have angina that does not resolve with rest or nitroglycerin, you should seek immediate medical attention by calling 911.
People Experience Angina Differently
Symptoms of angina include discomfort or pain in the chest or surrounding areas (arm, shoulder, back, neck, or jaw). It can feel like tightness, pressure, squeezing, or crushing and can spread to the arm, back, jaw, neck, and shoulder. Some patients may experience feeling faint, tired, out of breath, or as if they have heartburn.
Diagnosis and Treatment
It’s very important that you share all of the details about your condition with your health care team members so they can diagnose and manage your condition. Your doctor will discuss signs of angina to figure out if you have it or something else. Your health care team will review your personal and family history, assess risk factors, conduct a physical exam, and may run tests.
Once you are diagnosed with angina, your health care provider should ask you a number of questions to get a better understanding of your angina, including your pain level and which treatments made you feel better. Use the notes section of the HeartGuide to write down your angina symptoms, level of pain, and related issues and bring the information with you to every exam.