Angina is one of the most common causes of admission into the ER (Emergency Room), and it is the first thing that will cross a physician’s mind when a patient reports chest pain, especially if the patient is above 40 years old. Knowledge of how angina feels like is essential for everybody in order to warn him/her that they should seek urgent medical care. Thus, here we will discuss how angina feels and what warning signs you should watch for.
It is important to know that angina is a clinical presentation that may precede a heart disease rather than the disease itself, and therefore it changes from one person to another according to the severity and nature of the disease itself and the condition of the patient. For example, a diabetic patient may not feel any pain at all due to an abnormal function of his/her nerve endings responsible for the transmission of pain; also, women tend to have a different form of pain and a greater incidence of other symptoms as it will be discussed later.
Chest pain remains to be the primary symptom of angina and the reason why the patient seeks medical care. In angina, pain is quite characteristic, and an experienced doctor can suspect angina by just listening to how the patient describes his or her pain. Anginal pain feels more like a pressure or squeezing sensation than actual pain. Since angina is caused by a supply mismatch, where the heart can’t get enough oxygen to perform its function, the condition worsens when the heart’s demands of oxygen increase. That’s why anginal pain is aggravated by physical or emotional exertion and is relieved by rest.
Angina patients know the amount of effort that is needed to induce their pain and, therefore, can predict their anginal attacks to some extent. Anginal pain can rarely be felt as stabbing rather than pressure especially in women who may have an atypical complaint about angina. The localization of pain differs between people, but most common sites include the chest just beneath the breastbone, left shoulder, and less commonly along the left arm or jaw. It may rarely even be felt in the upper abdomen. Anginal attacks are brief and last from 1-10 minutes, and if the pain lasts for less than a minute, it points towards a non-anginal cause of chest pain, while if it lasts for more than 10 minutes without relief, it may be due to a heart attack, which is a broad term that signifies a more significant reduction of blood supply to the heart whether due to complete or near-complete occlusion of the heart’s blood vessels (the coronaries).