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What is angina?

Angina is pain, pressure, or tightness that is usually felt in your chest. It is caused by decreased blood flow and oxygen to your heart. If left untreated, angina may get worse, increase your risk for a heart attack, or become life-threatening.

What increases my risk for angina?

  • Age older than 55 years
  • Being a man
  • Being a woman who smokes and takes birth control pills, or in menopause
  • Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • A heart problem, such as a coronary artery spasm, heart valve disease, or an enlarged heart
  • A history of smoking, being around secondhand smoke, or using cocaine
  • Not enough exercise, or being overweight

What other signs and symptoms may I have with angina?

You may feel pressure, tightness, or pain in your neck, jaw, shoulder, or back. You may have pain or numbness in either arm, or discomfort that feels like heartburn. You may have shortness of breath, sweating, or feel fear or anxiety before or during an angina attack.

How is angina diagnosed?

  • An EKG records your heart rhythm and how fast your heart beats. It is also used to look for problems or damage in different areas of the heart.
  • Blood tests may show if there is damage to your heart. Your healthcare provider may also use blood tests to get information about your overall health.
  • A stress test helps healthcare providers see the changes that take place in your heart while it is under stress. Healthcare providers may place stress on your heart with exercise or medicine. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about this test.
  • An echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound. Sound waves are used to show the structure, movement, and blood vessels of your heart.
  • Cardiac catheterization is a procedure that uses dye and an x-ray to check the blood flow in your coronary arteries. This can help your healthcare provider decide how to treat your angina. Sometimes blockages can be treated during a cardiac catheterization.

How is angina treated?

  • Medicines:
    • Aspirin may help prevent blood clots by thinning your blood. If you cannot take aspirin, your healthcare provider can give you a prescription blood thinning medicine instead. Aspirin and other blood thinners may increase your risk for bleeding, including stomach bleeding. You will need to be careful to prevent bruising and bleeding.
    • Medicines may be given to open the arteries to your heart, slow your heartbeat, or decrease your blood pressure or cholesterol.
  • Angioplasty and stenting help open the coronary arteries and allow blood to flow to the heart. Ask for more information about these procedures.
  • Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) , or open heart surgery, can improve blood flow to the heart. This will help decrease your chest pain and prevent a heart attack.

Call 911 if:

  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest that lasts longer than 5 minutes or returns
    • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
    • Trouble breathing
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat, especially with chest pain or trouble breathing
  • You have chest pain that does not go away after you take medicine as directed.
  • You lose feeling in your face, arms, or legs, or you suddenly feel weak.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your angina is happening more frequently, lasting longer, or causing worse pain.
  • You have blood in your urine or bowel movements, or you vomit blood.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You are dizzy or nauseated after you take your medicine.
  • You have trouble breathing at rest.
  • You have new or worse swelling in your feet or ankles.
  • You are bleeding from your gums or nose.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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