LONDON — Angina, chest discomfort caused by reduced blood flow to the heart, is a common symptom of coronary artery disease. There is good news and bad news, explains Stephen Brecker, M.D., a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Healthcare in London. The good news: Angina often is treatable. The bad news: While people may think angina affects only the elderly, it can occur in younger people too.
The pain of angina can vary widely. Most often, it is an uncomfortable feeling of heaviness, tightness or constriction, like there is a tight band around the chest, Dr. Brecker says. Other symptoms can include sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea and fatigue. Discomfort may also be felt in the teeth, jaw, neck or back.
New or worsening angina symptoms could be signs of a heart attack and should prompt an immediate medical evaluation.
While angina is most common in people over 60, it is not confined to older people.
"We see many young patients who have developed premature coronary disease or have a familial tendency to high cholesterol," Dr. Brecker says.
Lifestyle-related factors, including obesity, stress, smoking, secondhand smoke exposure and lack of exercise, can raise the risk. Other risk factors for angina include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, chronic kidney disease, peripheral artery disease, and a family history of heart disease.
Angina typically is diagnosed using medical imaging, such as a CT coronary angiogram, stress echocardiogram and cardiovascular magnetic resonance imaging, also known as a cardiac MRI. Stress tests, which measure blood flow to the heart muscle during exercise, and blood tests may be a useful part of the assessment
"The vast majority of cases of coronary artery disease can now be treated very effectively," Dr. Brecker says. "Even with the most advanced forms of coronary disease, there are now effective treatments to increase blood flow to the heart muscle."
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