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Essentially, angina is a muscle cramp in the heart—the one muscle that cannot take a rest. It develops when the heart muscle does not receive enough oxygen for its needs from the arteries that supply it: the coronary arteries. Angina is, therefore, a symptom of coronary artery disease. Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of coronary artery disease; it causes thickened arterial walls and impaired blood flow. People usually experience angina as a squeezing chest pain, as if a heavy weight rested on the chest or a tight band wrapped around it. This is often accompanied by sweating, shortness of breath, and possibly pain radiating into the left arm or neck. Usually, angina is brought on by exercise—the more rapidly the heart pumps, the more oxygen it needs. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is the most common cause of angina. People with angina are at high risk for a heart attack , and treatment must take that into account. Drugs that expand (dilate) the heart's arteries, such as nitroglycerin, can give immediate relief. Other drugs help over the long-term by making the heart's work easier. It is also important to slow or reverse the progression of atherosclerosis by treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol and by reducing other risk factors. Surgical treatments (such as angioplasty and coronary artery bypass grafting) physically widen the blood vessels that feed the heart.

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