Angina pectoris, commonly known as angina, is severe chest pain due to ischemia (a lack of blood and hence oxygen supply) of the heart muscle, generally due to obstruction or spasm of the coronary arteries (the heart's blood vessels). Coronary artery disease, the main cause of angina, is due to atherosclerosis of the cardiac arteries. The term derives from the Latin angina ("infection of the throat") from the Greek ἀγχόνη ankhone ("strangling"), and the Latin pectus ("chest"), and can therefore be translated as "a strangling feeling in the chest".
Most patients with angina complain of chest discomfort rather than actual pain: the discomfort is usually described as a pressure, heaviness, tightness, squeezing, burning, or choking sensation. Apart from chest discomfort, anginal pains may also be experienced in the epigastrium (upper central abdomen), back, neck area, jaw, or shoulders. This is explained by the concept of referred pain, and is due to the spinal level that receives visceral sensation from the heart simultaneously receiving cutaneous sensation from parts of the skin specified by that spinal nerve's dermatome, without an ability to discriminate the two. Typical locations for referred pain are arms (often inner left arm), shoulders, and neck into the jaw. Angina is typically precipitated by exertion or emotional stress. It is exacerbated by having a full stomach and by cold temperatures. Pain may be accompanied by breathlessness, sweating and nausea in some cases. It usually lasts for about 3 to 5 minutes, and is relieved by rest or specific anti-angina medication. Chest pain lasting only a few seconds is normally not angina.
Myocardial ischemia comes about when the myocardia (the heart muscles) receive insufficient blood and oxygen to function normally either because of increased oxygen demand by the myocardia or by decreased supply to the myocardia. This inadequate perfusion of blood and the resulting reduced delivery of oxygen and nutrients is directly correlated to blocked or narrowed blood vessels.
A variant form of angina (Prinzmetal's angina) occurs in patients with normal coronary arteries or insignificant atherosclerosis. It is thought to be caused by spasms of the artery. It occurs more in younger women.