Short lived but severely painful, angina comes from a Greek word meaning “a strangling.” If you’ve ever had angina pain, you certainly understand the analogy. The heaviness in your chest – sometimes described as the mass of an elephant pressing down – comes from a sudden constriction of blood vessels around your heart.

When angina occurs, you’re usually under a alot of physical or emotional stress – perhaps climbing a set of stairs or swearing at that reckless driver who just cut you off on the interstate. In response to the stress, your coronary arteries may go into spasm. Your heart muscle needs more blood and oxygen but can’t get enough because the pipelines are narrowed with plaque and scarring.

Perhaps you haven’t felt the classic symptom of angina but have experienced a sense of fullness or indigestion, perhaps a burning in your upper chest and esophagus. These, too, can be manifestations of angina and heart disease.

Seniors may not have symptoms that are as overwhelming, as heavy, or as painful. Their angina may be more subtle. Still it’s not something you should ignore. Angina is a very clear sign that you have heart disease.

High cholesterol, smoking, excess weight, lack of exercise, and poor diet all contribute to angina and heart disease. First you’ll need to get a proper diagnosis from your doctor, then, you usually can manage angina with medication, exercise, and stress management and by changing lifestyle habits.

When an angina attack hits, the most immediate remedy is to take the nitroglycerin your doctor prescribed for you.