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The Chest Pain – Angina Pectoris

The Chest Pain – Angina Pectoris

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Chest Pain is common. Many times, chest pain can be confused for many different medical conditions. Often it is brushed aside as just “gas”. However, a major cause of chest pain is Angina pectoris.

Angina pectoris is the medical term for chest pain or discomfort due to coronary heart disease. It occurs when the heart muscle doesn’t get as much blood as it needs. This usually happens because one or more of the heart’s arteries is narrowed or blocked, also called ischaemia.

Angina usually causes uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the centre of the chest.  You may also feel the discomfort in your neck, jaw, shoulder, back or arm. 

Angina often occurs when the heart muscle itself needs more blood than it is getting, for example, during times of physical activity or strong emotions. Severely narrowed arteries may allow enough blood to reach the heart when the demand for oxygen is low, such as when you’re sitting. But, with physical exertion — like walking up a hill or climbing stairs —the heart works harder and needs more oxygen.

The pain or discomfort occurs when the heart must work harder, usually during physical exertion. The pain episodes doesn’t come as a surprise, and episodes of pain tend to be alike. They usually lasts a short time (5 minutes or less) and are relieved by rest or medicine. The pain may feel like gas or indigestion and may feel like chest pain that spreads to the arms, back, or other areas.
Angina may be triggered by emotional stress such as stress at work and family stress. Exposure to very hot or cold temperatures can trigger the pains. Heavy meals and smoking can also trigger the pain.

People with angina pectoris, or sometimes referred to as stable angina, have episodes of chest pain. The discomfort that is usually predictable and manageable. You might experience it while running or if you’re dealing with stress.

Normally this type of chest discomfort is relieved with rest, medication called nitroglycerin, or both.  Nitroglycerin relaxes the heart arteries and other blood vessels, reducing the amount of blood that returns to the heart and easing the heart’s workload. By relaxing the coronary arteries, it increases the heart’s blood supply.

If you experience chest discomfort, be sure and visit your doctor for a complete evaluation and, possibly, tests. If you have stable angina and start getting chest pain more easily and more often, see your doctor immediately, as you may be experiencing early signs of unstable angina.

Dr. Rosmond Adams, MD; MSc (Public Health); M.S (Bioethics) is a medical doctor and a public health specialist with training in bioethics and ethical issues in medicine, the life sciences and research. He is a lecturer of medical ethics and Research Methods.

He is the Head of Health Information, Communicable Disease and Emergency Response at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). He is also a member of the World Health Organization Global Coordination Mechanism on the Prevention and Control of NCDs.

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