Angina is a type of chest pain that people get when the arteries carrying blood to their heart muscle become narrowed. This can restrict the blood supply and so cause pain called an “angina attack”. The pain and discomfort of angina feels like a dull, heavy or tight pain in the chest that can sometimes spread to the left arm, neck, jaw or back. Angina attacks are usually caused by physical exertion, stress or excitement. Most cases of angina are caused by atherosclerosis, which is the hardening and narrowing of arteries as a result of a build-up of fatty substances known as “plaques”. This can restrict the blood supply to the heart and trigger the symptoms of angina. Advanced age, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes and eating a diet high in saturated fats all increase your risk of developing atherosclerosis.
A major concern for people with angina is that their atherosclerosis will continue to get worse. This can lead to the blood supply to their heart becoming blocked, which could trigger a heart attack. Similarly, a blockage of the blood supply to the brain could trigger a stroke. Each year in the UK, it’s estimated that 1 in every 100 people with stable angina will have a fatal heart attack or stroke, and as many as 1 in 40 people will have a non-fatal heart attack or stroke.