Chest Pain & Discomfort

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Chest pain is pain or discomfort that occurs anywhere along your front side between the upper abdomen and neck. When the heart muscle does not receive proper blood and oxygen flow, it results in chest pain and discomfort called angina. The most common cause of angina is coronary artery disease, which causes arteries to become very narrow or blocked. Lack of blood in the heart tissue causes chest discomfort that may last for several minutes, particularly during physical activity. However, angina can be treated with medication, rest, surgery, and cardiac rehabilitation. 
 
Coronary artery disease caused by hardening of the arteries, called atherosclerosis, is the most common cause of angina. At fist, arteries will be narrowed due to plaque formation. As time goes on, the plaques may rupture, forming an artery-blocking clot or plug. Oxygen and blood cannot make their way to the heart muscle when an artery is blocked or narrowed, resulting in discomfort, particularly during exertion. There are several other less common factors that can cause angina, including valvular heart disease, spasm of the artery, uncontrolled high blood pressure, and an enlarged heart.
 
Symptoms of angina worsen when the heart lacks enough blood and oxygen. You may notice increased pain and discomfort after exercise or exertion through basic daily tasks like carrying in groceries, climbing stairs, or sex. Angina may also occur when you are stressed, angered, or emotionally upset. Experiencing very hot or cold temperatures or having a full stomach may also trigger angina. The chest discomfort caused by angina usually lasts one to five minutes, typically feeling like burning, pressure, heaviness, squeezing, tightness, or pain. Angina discomfort usually affects the neck, jaws, chest, back, arms, shoulders, and stomach area. Additionally, your wrists, shoulders, and arms may tingle or experience numbness. You may sweat, feel nauseated, and have difficulty breathing.
 
There are several tests that can identify angina, such as an exercise stress test, coronary angiogram, nuclear stress test, and electrocardiogram (ECG). 
 
Depending on the severity and type of angina, there are a variety of treatments available. Often, nitroglycerin medication is prescribed for angina relief. Your doctor may prescribe other medications, based on your condition, to thin your blood, regulate your heartbeat, relieve anxiety, or lower your blood pressure. Your doctor may also mandate cardiac rehabilitation in order to improve your circulation and strengthen your heart muscles. Depending on the type of angina, hospitalization may be required. 
 
Surgery may be recommended in some cases. One such surgery is coronary angioplasty, which opens blocked coronary arteries, and may involve inserting a stent to guarantee that the artery remains open even after the angioplasty. Another surgery is coronary artery bypass graft (CABG), where surgeons will create a detour around a clogged artery by taking a blood vessel from somewhere else in the body, restoring blood flow to your heart. Often, blood vessels are taken from the leg to be connected surgically to the coronary artery. Sometimes, multiple bypass surgeries may be necessary to address several blocked coronary arteries.
 
It is possible to decrease your risk of angina by changing your lifestyle to eliminate risky behaviors. Your risk of angina may decrease if you maintain healthy cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, and weight levels. If you are a smoker, quitting is paramount. If you struggle with quitting smoking, ask your doctor about products and support systems that can help you quit. A healthy, well-balanced diet of low sodium, low sugar, and low fat meals and regular exercise can help you maintain a strong heart.
 
There are many factors that increase your likelihood of developing angina, such as: cigarette smoking, hardening of the arteries, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, family history of heart disease, sedentary lifestyle, and drug use. However, some people develop angina even without engaging in any risk factors.