When blood flow to the heart is reduced, you may experience angina which causes chest pain or chest discomfort. Angina in the chest is also known as angina pectoris.
Angina can be stable or unstable. In stable angina, you experience chest pain after exertion, exercise or emotional stress and the pain lasts for only a few minutes.
In unstable angina, you experience chest pain even at rest, it is unexpected, and can last for longer periods of time than stable angina.
The feelings associated with angina include chest pain, chest pressure, or a feeling of fullness or squeezing.
Angina occurs when the blood flow to your heart is less than normal and your heart is not getting enough oxygen. A common cause of angina is atherosclerosis. In atherosclerosis, the arteries to your heart become narrowed due to a buildup of fatty substances on the inner lining of the coronary artery.
If you have chest pain that lasts for more than several minutes or that doesn't get better when you rest, you should seek medical treatment. Your doctor will try to diagnose the problem by asking you questions about your pain or conducting tests such as an electrocardiogram, a stress test, a chest x-ray, an echocardiogram, coronary angiography, or blood tests to detect certain heart enzymes that indicate heart damage.
To treat angina, optimal blood flow needs to be restored to your heart. This can be accomplished by avoiding situations that cause angina attacks - achieve a healthy weight, reduce exertion and intense exercise, eat a heart healthy diet and avoid large meals, stop smoking, and avoid stress.
If these lifestyle changes do not reduce your chest pain, there are medications and heart procedures that can help. Some medications help reduce angina by making the blood thinner and less likely to clot or by relaxing your blood vessels.
Heart procedures that can help reduce angina include angioplasty, where the fatty buildup in the inner lining of the artery wall is pressed back to widen the artery. Sometimes a stent is used to keep the artery strong and open. Heart bypass surgery is another option for increasing blood flow to the heart.
Your risk of developing angina is greater if you smoke, have high blood pressure, have high blood cholesterol or triglycerides, are obese, are inactive, have diabetes, you drink excessively, or if you are under stress.