Angina is one of the most common symptoms of heart disease. Angina pectoris is associated with any condition in which the heart muscle itself does not get an adequate supply of blood and oxygen. Angina is often described as a constricting pressure or tightness in the chest. It can take many different forms, however, and people experience angina in many different ways. Patients often have a difficult time explaining the problem to their doctor. They will use phrases like "a big weight on my chest," or "it feels like my chest is in a vise." The pain is often described as dull rather than sharp. Angina often feels as though it spreads throughout the chest and may radiate into the back, neck, shoulders and arms, especially on the left side.

Angina is usually brought on by either mental (anxiety, fright) or physical stress. The additional stress causes the heart to work harder which produces a greater need for oxygen in the heart muscle. If this need is not met because coronary arteries are blocked and blood flow is reduced to the heart tissue, the pain or discomfort of angina occurs. Angina that is due to a temporary insufficiency of blood flow to the heart muscle typically lasts a few minutes. If you have angina that lasts more than 5-10 minutes, you should seek medical attention immediately — you could be having a heart attack.

Angina can indicate that you have coronary artery disease, valve disease, high blood pressure or an overgrowth of the heart muscle. You should keep in mind, however, that chest pain is not always an indication of heart disease. Chest pain can also result from an inflammation of the sac that surrounds the heart (pericardium), or from stomach problems, ulcers, gallstones, pleurisy or shingles.