Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Signs and Symptoms

Angina is a specific type of pain in the chest caused by inadequate blood flow through the blood vessels (coronary vessels) of the heart muscle (myocardium).

The symptoms associated with CAD may be pronounced, but the disease can also occur without any noticeable symptoms.

Some common symptoms include:

Chest pain (angina) -- This is the most common symptom, and it results from the heart not getting enough blood or oxygen.

The intensity of the pain varies from person-to-person. Chest pain may be typical or atypical.

Typical chest pain is felt under the sternum and is characterized by a heavy or squeezing feeling, it is precipitated by exertion or emotion, and it is relieved by rest or nitroglycerin.

Atypical chest pain can be located in the left chest, abdomen, back, or arm and is fleeting or sharp. Atypical chest pain is unrelated to exercise and is not relieved by rest or nitroglycerin. Atypical chest pain is more common in women.

Shortness of breath -- This is usually a symptom of congestive heart failure. The heart at this point is weak because of the long-term lack of blood and oxygen, or sometimes from a recent or past heart attack. If the heart is not pumping enough blood to circulate in the body, shortness of breath may be accompanied by swollen feet and ankles.

Heart attack -- In some cases, the first sign of CAD is a heart attack. This occurs when atherosclerotic plaque or a blood clot blocks the blood flow of the coronary artery to the heart. The coronary artery was likely already narrowed from CAD. The pain associated with a heart attack is usually severe, lasts longer than the chest pain described above, and is not relieved by resting or nitroglycerin.

This page was last updated: September 15, 2014

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