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Unstable Angina

Making a Diagnosis

In order to diagnose unstable angina, your healthcare provider will likely ask a number of questions and perform a physical exam looking for signs and symptoms of angina. He or she will also recommend certain tests and/or procedures.
A person is commonly diagnosed with unstable angina if he or she has:
  • Angina attack symptoms for the first time
  • Angina at rest or with minimal exertion
  • Worsening symptoms, where they are occurring more frequently, are more severe, or last longer.
(Click Angina Diagnosis for more information on diagnosing unstable angina.)

Treating Options

For people with unstable angina, immediate treatment is necessary to decrease the chances of a heart attack (known medically as a myocardial infarction). The goals of treatment are to decrease the symptoms and prevent any more blood clots from forming. To accomplish this, a person with unstable angina will be hospitalized and given medicines through an IV.
In up to 85 percent of patients, this emergency treatment will stabilize the angina symptoms. The person can then have a cardiac catheterization, angioplasty, or heart bypass surgery (known as coronary artery bypass surgery, or CABG for short) to look for and/or fix the causes of unstable angina. Emergency angioplasty or open heart surgery will be needed in those people for whom symptoms do not get better with IV medicines.

Unstable Angina and Heart Attacks

Angina is not a heart attack, but it does mean that you are at greater risk of having a heart attack than someone who does not have the condition. The risk is even higher if you have unstable angina, where 10 percent to 20 percent of people will have a heart attack.
It may be difficult to tell the difference between unstable angina and a heart attack. Take action quickly if your chest pain becomes severe, lasts longer, or is not relieved by rest or medicine.
Most heart attack victims wait two hours or more after their symptoms begin before they seek medical help. This delay can result in death or lasting heart damage. Be sure to create an emergency plan with your family members so that in case of a heart attack, valuable time isn't wasted.
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Angina Pectoris

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