Common symptoms of coronary artery disease (CAD) include angina, shortness of breath (particularly during physical exertion), and rapid heartbeat. Sometimes patients with CAD have few or no symptoms until they have heart attack or heart failure.
Angina is a symptom, not a disease. It is the primary symptom of coronary artery disease and, in severe cases, of a heart attack. It is typically felt as chest pain and occurs as a consequence of a condition called myocardial ischemia. Ischemia results when the heart muscle does not get as much blood (and, as a result, as much oxygen) as it needs for a given level of work. Angina is usually referred to as one of two states:
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- Stable Angina (which is predictable)
- Unstable Angina (which is less predictable and a sign of a more serious situation)
Angina may be experienced in different ways and can be mild, moderate, or severe. The intensity of the pain does not always relate to the severity of the medical problem. Some people may feel a crushing pain from mild ischemia, while others might feel only mild discomfort from severe ischemia.
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Stable Angina and Chest Pain
Stable Angina. Stable angina is predictable chest pain. Although less serious than unstable angina, it can be extremely painful or uncomfortable. It is usually relieved by rest and responds well to medical treatment (typically nitroglycerin). Any event that increases oxygen demand can cause an angina attack. Some typical triggers include:
- Cold weather
- Emotional tension
- Large meals
Angina attacks can happen at any time during the day, but most occur between 6 a.m. and noon.
Specific symptoms that are more likely to indicate angina include:
Review Date: 05/05/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.