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Angina, or heart-related chest pain, occurs when blocked or narrowed coronary arteries prevent enough blood and oxygen from getting to the heart. (Restricted blood supply to the heart also is known as ischemia.)
Angina pain can be dull and heavy, or it can be choking or squeezing, and it can spread to the throat, neck, jaw, teeth and left arm. Additionally, a person may sweat, become nauseous or dizzy or have breathing difficulties.
Angina has the same root cause as heart attack—atherosclerosis—narrowed or blocked coronary arteries because of cholesterol-related plaque. However, there is key difference between the two. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a section of the heart is completely blocked. It causes permanent heart muscle damage; angina does not.
There are two types of angina—stable and unstable. Stable angina is caused by a fixed blockage in one or more coronary arteries. The pain is predictable, occurring during physical exertion. Unstable angina has unpredictable chest pain of increasing severity when the patient is at rest. It implies that the underlying angina is worsening, or that a heart attack is imminent.
Roosevelt Hospital’s cardiology program commonly treats angina with coronary vasodilators, or drugs that cause cardiac blood vessels to relax, improving blood flow, oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. Nitroglycerin is the drug most often used. Other medications might be beta-blockers and calcium antagonists, which reduce blood pressure.
When medications don’t sufficiently correct angina, angioplasty might be performed to improve blood supply to the heart. In angioplasty, our cardiologists use a thin, flexible plastic catheter or tube, with a balloon, and insert it into the blocked artery. The balloon is inflated, squeezing open the fatty plaque deposit. Often, a stent is then placed in the artery to keep it open.
Coronary artery bypass surgery also may be used to treat severe angina, using a vein from the patient’s leg to reroute blood around the blocked artery.
For a referral to an expert cardiologist at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, call 877.996.9334.
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