Angina pectoris, or simply angina, is a coronary syndrome characterized by an oppressive substernal pain (pain under breastbone) or pressure brought on by exertion and relieved by rest that results from failure of coronary arteries to deliver adequate oxygen to heart tissue due to ischemic heart disease.
Q: Why do coronary arteries fail to deliver adequate oxygen to heart tissue?
A: Coronary arteries are the blood vessels that serve the heart. In angina, these vessels fail to deliver adequate oxygen to heart tissue because they are narrowed or blocked by fatty buildups, called atherosclerotic plaques or by a blood clot which impair their ability to carry adequate blood that carries the oxygen. Diseased coronary arteries cannot deliver adequate oxygenated blood pumped by the heart to its own muscle cells.
The heart is a muscular organ that is working all the time without rest, so it needs a constant supply of oxygen. When heart muscle has to work harder, it needs more oxygen. Lack of oxygen causes pain which makes the affected person stop activity and rest.
Angina can be stable or unstable. Unstable angina is much more serious and can be life-threatening.
- Stable angina produces predictable pain and responds to rest and/or medication. It is less serious than unstable angina but can be very painful or uncomfortable. Anything that makes the heart muscle need more oxygen can cause an angina attack in someone with heart disease, including: smoking, cold weather, exercise, emotional stress, obesity, and large meals. Other causes of angina include: abnormal heart rhythms (usually ones that cause the heart to beat quickly), anemia, coronary artery spasm, heart failure, heart valve disease, and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).1
- Unstable angina produces unpredictable pain that may occur at rest, lasting more than 20 minutes. It is more severe than stable angina and less responsive to medication. Atherosclerosis is by far the most common cause of unstable angina. Oxidized low-density lipoprotein, so-called bad cholesterol, and oxysterols play an important role in atherogenesis, the development of atherosclerosis. Coronary arteries that are narrowed by atherosclerotic plaques can rupture causing injury to the coronary blood vessel resulting in blood clotting which blocks the flow of blood to the heart muscle. Blood clots may form, partially dissolve, and later form again and angina can occur each time a clot blocks blood flow in an artery. People with unstable angina are at increased risk of having a heart attack.2
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