More than 6 million Americans live with angina pectoris
, or angina
for short. Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart muscle is temporarily not getting enough oxygen-rich blood. A bout of angina is not a heart attack
, but it means that you're more likely to have a heart attack than someone who doesn't have angina.
There are three types:
Stable angina is the most common type; it is also referred to as exertional angina.
Understanding the Heart and Coronary Arteries
In order to understand the cause of stable angina, it is often helpful to understand the heart and the coronary arteries. Like any muscle, the heart needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients, which are carried to it by the blood in the coronary arteries. Similar to other muscles, the harder the heart is working, the more oxygen and nutrients it needs. However, the coronary arteries can become narrowed or clogged, which can decrease the amount of blood that goes to the heart muscle. When the coronary arteries cannot supply enough oxygen-rich blood to the heart, angina symptoms
In stable angina, a coronary artery has been severely narrowed due to the buildup of plaque
. Severely narrowed arteries may allow enough blood to reach the heart when the demand for oxygen is low (such as when you are sitting). With exertion, like walking uphill or climbing stairs, however, the heart works harder and needs more oxygen, which it cannot get. Therefore, a person develops symptoms of angina
. With rest, the symptoms of an angina attack generally improve (see Causes of Angina for more information).