Josyann Abisaab on Identifying Chest Pains & Their Meanings

Back in 2004 former President Bill Clinton underwent quadruple bypass surgery due to extensive heart disease, including over 90% blockages in some of his arteries. At that time there was a surge in the number of middle-aged men going for doctor visits to have their own hearts checked, a phenomenon which came to be referred to as “Clinton Syndrome.” More recently, Bill Clinton was once again back in the hospital this past Thursday, February 11th,  having  stent surgery to improve blood flow to his heart muscle. This minimally invasive and routine procedure was performed after Clinton complained of chest pains.

The following is a brief discussion of types of chest pain and what they signify.

Heart Disease and Angina (Chest Pain)

The most common symptom of coronary artery disease is angina, also known simply as chest pain. It can be described as a discomfort, heaviness, pressure, aching, burning, fullness, squeezing, or painful feeling in the chest.  Angina pain may also be felt in the shoulders, arms, neck, throat, jaw, or back. Often, it can be mistaken for indigestion. Angina is due to decreased blood flow to an area of the heart muscle. This can be due to atherosclerotic plaques in the coronary arteries which supply blood flow to the heart muscle or sometimes due to spasm of such arteries. If you have this symptom, seek medical attention immediately.

There are 3 types of Angina:

Stable angina. The pain has a predictable pattern and is present only during exertion, disappearing with rest. Stable angina can usually be managed with medications.

Unstable angina. This may progress to a heart attack. Unstable angina is different from regular angina pain. It may occur more frequently, usually at rest, feel more severe, last longer, or come on with minimal activity. It requires immediate and more intense medical treatment or a procedure such as angioplasty or stent placement.

Prinzmetal’s angina. This is when chest pain occurs at rest, when sleeping, or when exposed to cold temperatures. The symptoms are caused by decreased blood flow to the heart’s muscle from a spasm of the coronary artery. This type of angina can usually be treated with medications.