About Heart & Circulation Care

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is caused by a narrowing of the arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood. This narrowing is a result of atherosclerosis – the buildup of cholesterol and other fatty substances in the arteries. When the arteries narrow, blood flow is reduced. The reduced blood flow causes the heart muscle to receive less oxygen then it needs to function properly. This is termed ischemia. When ischemia occurs patients typically develop angina or chest pain originating from the heart. If the blood flow is completely cut off, a heart attack (myocardial infarction) will occur, and the heart muscle will be permanently damaged.

CAD is the most common life-threatening disease in the United States. It is estimated that over 12 million Americans have a history of heart attack, angina pectoris (chest pain), or both. As the population ages, it is expected that his number will increase.

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Angina pectoris (or just "angina") is a symptom of CAD. It has been described as chest pain or discomfort that has a squeezing or pressure-like quality, usually felt behind the breastbone (sternum), but sometimes felt in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaws, or back. Angina is an indicator that your heart is not getting all the oxygen it needs to keep working at its optimal level. People who have angina are at an increased risk of having a heart attack.

Having anginal pain, especially for the first time, may be frightening. People may mistake it for having a heart attack or mistakenly think it is heartburn. A stable pattern of angina does not necessarily mean a heart attack is about to occur. But if the pattern changes-for example, angina becomes more frequent, lasts longer, comes on more easily, or happens for the first time-the risk of a heart attack is higher. Listed below are some common differences between angina and heart attacks: