Atherosclerosis may be present for years without causing symptoms. This slow disease process can begin in childhood. In some people, the condition can cause symptoms by the time they reach their 30s. In others, they do not have symptoms until they reach their 50s or 60s. But, as the blockage gets worse, the slowed blood supply to the heart may begin to cause something called angina pectoris, a Latin phrase that means, “strangling in the chest.” Patients often say that angina is like a squeezing, suffocating, or burning feeling in their chest. The pain usually happens when the heart has an extra demand for blood, like during exercise or times of emotional stress.
Angina tends to start in the center of the chest but may move to your arm, neck, back, throat, or jaw. Some people say they feel numbness or a loss of sensation in their arms, shoulders, or wrists. An episode usually lasts no more than a few minutes and goes away with rest.
For certain patients with CAD, angina may not be present. Sometimes the lack of oxygen to the heart (called ischemia) does not cause any pain. In these cases, people are said to have silent ischemia.