Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when your heart isn’t receiving enough oxygen because of reduced blood flow to the heart. It is usually a symptom of coronary heart disease.
Blood enters the heart through three blood vessels. These are known as the coronary arteries and they supply the heart muscle with the blood, oxygen and nutrients it needs to keep beating. Normally, the coronary arteries deliver enough blood so that the heart muscle gets the amount of oxygen it needs to work properly. However, in coronary heart disease these arteries become narrowed reducing the amount of blood that can pass through them.
This means that blood can’t get to the heart muscle fast enough and the heart complains with pain. This pain is known as angina. It is more likely to occur during exertion (for example, walking or climbing stairs) when the heart muscle needs more blood and oxygen as it works harder.
An episode of angina is not a heart attack. Angina is due to a temporary reduction in the flow of blood to part of the heart muscle and does not damage the heart itself. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart is cut off and results in permanent damage to the heart muscle. However, angina does indicate an increased risk of a heart attack.
Angina is common. It affects about 1 in 50 people and there are estimated to be 1.2 million people with angina in the UK. It is more common in men than women and the likelihood of it occurring increases with age.
© St. Joseph's Hospital 2019