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Unstable Angina

What is it?

Angina pectoris is pain in the chest caused by insufficient blood flow to the heart.

Unstable angina means a sudden, new pain in the chest. It can also refer to angina pectoris that suddenly gets worse.

Unstable angina may indicate that you are having a heart attack.

If you have any sudden or unexplained chest pain, call 911.

What are the symptoms?

Patients with unstable angina may experience the sudden onset of any of these symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Feeling of pressure, tightness or squeezing in the chest
  • Pain in the back, neck, jaw or shoulders
  • Pain in the arms, especially the left arm
  • Pain at rest
  • Pain during mild exertion
  • Shortness of breath

How is it treated?

Unstable angina should be treated as an emergency, since it may be the sign of a heart attack.

Medications. Your doctor may use medications such as nitroglycerin or beta blockers to decrease your heart’s workload and improve blood flow to your heart.

Angioplasty and stent placement. A thin catheter is inserted through a blood vessel in your thigh and threaded up to the blocked artery. A tiny balloon is then used to open up the blockage. A stent—a miniature wire tube—is then placed in the blood vessel to hold it open and allow blood to flow normally.

Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery. In this surgery, a blood vessel is taken from another part of your body and used to go around—or bypass—the blocked coronary artery. This surgery is often called “open heart surgery.” Coronary artery bypass surgery is often used for more severe blockages.

What is URMC’s approach?

An important measure of a heart center is it’s “door-to-balloon time”—the time from when a patient arrives in the Emergency Department until a blocked coronary artery can be re-opened with a balloon catheter.

At URMC, we have analyzed and refined our whole process to reduce our door-to-balloon time to minutes. Also, our Heart Attack Team is on standby 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.  Our response time to heart attacks places us in the top 10% of all hospitals across the nation.

We also have advanced procedures to help patients who suffer severe heart attacks. We are one of the few heart centers in the country with the ability to use temporary heart pumps to help a patient’s heart through the period of most intense shock.

Who should I contact?

Unstable angina—sudden or unexplained chest pain—should be treated as an emergency.

If you are experiencing chest pain, call 911.

Learn more about interventional cardiology at URMC.