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Unstable angina is a condition in which your heart doesn't get enough blood flow and oxygen. It may lead up to a heart attack.
Angina is a type of chest discomfort caused by poor blood flow through the blood vessels (coronary vessels) of the heart muscle (myocardium).
Accelerating angina; New-onset angina; Angina - unstable; Progressive angina
Coronary artery disease due to atherosclerosis is by far the most common cause of unstable angina. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fatty material called plaque along the walls of the arteries. This causes arteries to become narrowed and less flexible, which interrupts blood flow to the heart, causing chest pain.
People with unstable angina are at increased risk of having a heart attack.
Risk factors for coronary artery disease include:
Symptoms of angina may include:
With stable angina, the chest pain or other symptom only occurs with a certain amount of activity or stress. The pain does not occur more often or get worse over time.
Unstable angina is chest pain that is sudden and gets worse over time. You may be developing unstable angina if the chest pain:
Unstable angina is a warning sign that a heart attack may happen soon. It needs to be treated right away. If you have any type of chest pain, see your doctor.
The doctor will perform a physical examination and check your blood pressure. The doctor may hear abnormal sounds, such as a heart murmur or irregular heartbeat, when listening to your chest with a stethoscope.
Tests for angina include:
Your doctor may want you to check into the hospital to get some rest, have more tests, and prevent complications.
Blood thinners (antiplatelet drugs) are used to treat and prevent unstable angina. These medicines include aspirin and the prescription drug clopidogrel. Aspirin (and sometimes clopidogrel) may reduce the chance of a heart attack in certain patients.
During an unstable angina event:
Often if a blood vessel is found to be narrowed or blocked, a procedure called angioplasty and stenting can be done to open the artery.
Heart bypass surgery may be done for some people, depending on which, how many, and what parts of their coronary arteries are narrowed, and how severe the narrowings are.
Unstable angina is a sign of more severe heart disease.
How well you do depends on many different things, including:
Abnormal heart rhythms and heart attacks can cause sudden death.
Unstable angina may lead to:
Seek medical attention if you have new, unexplained chest pain or pressure. If you have had angina before, call your doctor.
Call 911 if your angina pain:
Call your doctor if:
If you think you are having a heart attack, get medical treatment right away.
Lifestyle changes can help prevent some angina attacks. Your doctor may tell you to:
Also keep strict control of your blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol levels. Some studies have shown that making a few lifestyle changes can prevent blockages from getting worse and may actually improve them.
If you have one or more risk factors for heart disease, talk to your doctor about taking aspirin or other medicines to help prevent a heart attack. Aspirin therapy (75 - 325 mg a day) or a drug called clopidogrel may help prevent heart attacks in some people. Aspirin therapy is recommended if the benefit is likely to outweigh the risk of side effects.
Anderson JL, Adams CD, Antman EM, Bridges CR, Califf RM, Casey DE Jr., et al. ACC/AHA 2007 guidelines for the management of patients with unstable angina/non-ST-Elevation myocardial infarction: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Writing Committee to Revise the 2002 Guidelines for the Management of Patients With Unstable Angina/Non-ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction) developed in collaboration with the American College of Emergency Physicians, the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons endorsed by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation and the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2007;50:e1-e157.
Cannon CP, Braunwald E. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 56.
Montalescot G, Cayla G, Collet JP, Elhadad S, Beyqui F, Le Breton H, et al. Immediate vs. delayed intervention for acute coronary syndromes: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2009;302:947-954.