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Angina Pectoris (cont.)

What are the signs and symptoms of angina?

Angina itself is a symptom (or set of symptoms), not a disease. Any of the following may signal angina:

  • An uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest
  • It may also feel like tightness, burning, or a heavy weight.
  • The pain may spread to the shoulders, neck, or arms.
  • It may be located in the upper abdomen, back, or jaw.
  • The pain may be of any intensity from mild to severe.

Other symptoms may occur with an angina attack, as follows:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Sweating or cold, sweaty skin
  • Nausea
  • Rapid or irregular heart beat
  • Pallor (pale skin)
  • Feeling of impending doom

These symptoms are identical to the signs of an impending heart attack described by the American Heart Association. It is not always easy to tell the difference between angina and a heart attack, except angina only lasts a few minutes and heart attack pain does not go away.

  • If you have never had symptoms like this before, sit down. If you are able, call your healthcare provider, call 911, or go to the closest hospital emergency department.
  • If you have had angina attacks before and this attack is similar to those, rest for a few minutes. Take your sublingual nitroglycerin. Your angina should be totally relieved in five minutes. If not, you may repeat the nitroglycerin dose and wait another five minutes. A third dose may be tried but if you still have no relief, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency department.

What are the types of angina?

Angina is classified as one of the following two types:

  1. Stable angina
  2. Unstable angina

1. Stable angina

Stable angina is the most common angina, and the type most people mean when they refer to angina.

  • People with stable angina usually have angina symptoms on a regular basis. The episodes occur in a pattern and are predictable.
  • For most people, angina symptoms occur after short bursts of exertion.
  • Stable angina symptoms usually last less than five minutes.
  • They are usually relieved by rest or medication, such as nitroglycerin under the tongue.

2. Unstable angina

Unstable angina is less common. Angina symptoms are unpredictable and often occur at rest.

  • This may indicate a worsening of stable angina, but sometimes the first time a person has angina it is already unstable.
  • The symptoms are worse in unstable angina - the pains are more frequent, more severe, last longer, occur at rest, and are not relieved by nitroglycerin under the tongue.
  • Unstable angina is not the same as a heart attack, but it warrants an immediate visit to the doctor or a hospital emergency department. The patient may need to be hospitalized to prevent a heart attack.

If the person has stable angina, any of the following may indicate worsening of the condition:

  • An angina episode that is different from the regular pattern
  • Being awakened at night by angina symptoms
  • More severe symptoms than usual
  • Having angina symptoms more often than usual
  • Angina symptoms lasting longer than usual
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2017

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