NCP Angina Coronary Artery Disease

The classic symptom of coronary artery disease (CAD) is angina—pain caused by loss of oxygen and nutrients to the myocardial tissue because of inadequate coronary blood flow. In most but not all patients presenting with angina, CAD symptoms are caused by significant atherosclerosis. Unstable angina is sometimes grouped with MI under the diagnosis of acute coronary syndrome. Angina has three major forms: (1) stable (precipitated by effort, of short duration, and easily relieved), (2) unstable (longer lasting, more severe, may not be relieved by rest/nitroglycerin; may also be new onset of pain with exertion or recent acceleration in severity of pain), and (3) variant (chest pain at rest with ECG changes due to coronary artery spasm). The AHCPR guidelines of May 1994 state that unstable angina is a transitory syndrome that causes significant disability and death in the United States.


Patients judged to be at intermediate or high likelihood of significant CAD are often hospitalized for further evaluation and therapeutic intervention. Classification of angina (provided by Canadian Cardiovascular Society Classification [CCSC]) aids in determining the risk of adverse outcomes for patients with unstable angina and, therefore, level of treatment needs. Class III angina is identified as occurring if the patient walks less than two blocks and normal activity is markedly limited, and class IV angina occurs at rest or with minimal activity and level of activity is severely limited.

These two classes may require inpatient evaluation/therapeutic adjustments.


Cardiac surgery: postoperative care


Heart failure: chronic

Myocardial infarction

Psychosocial aspects of care

Patient Assessment Database


May report: Sedentary lifestyle, weakness

Fatigue, feeling incapacitated after exercise

Chest pain with exertion or at rest

Awakened by chest pain

May exhibit: Exertional dyspnea


May report: History of heart disease, hypertension, obesity in self/family

May exhibit: Tachycardia, dysrhythmias

Blood pressure normal, elevated, or decreased

Heart sounds: May be normal; late S4 or transient late systolic murmur (papillary muscledysfunction) may be evident during pain

Moist, cool, pale skin/mucous membranes in presence of vasoconstriction


May report: Stressors of work, family, others

May exhibit: Apprehension, uneasiness


May report: Nausea, “heartburn”/epigastric distress with eating

Diet high in cholesterol/fats, salt, caffeine, liquor

May exhibit: Belching, gastric distension


May report: Substernal or anterior chest pain that may radiate to jaw, neck, shoulders, and upper extremities (to left side more than right)

Quality: Varies from transient/mild to moderate, heavy pressure, tightness, squeezing, burning

Duration: Usually less than 15 min, rarely more than 30 min (average 3 min)

Precipitating factors: Physical exertion or great emotion, such as anger or sexual arousal; exercise in weather extremes; or may be unpredictable and/or occur during rest

or sleep in unstable angina

Relieving factors: Pain may be responsive to particular relief mechanisms (e.g., rest,

antianginal medications)

New or ongoing chest pain that has changed in frequency, duration, character, or

predictability (i.e., unstable, variant, Prinzmetal’s)

May exhibit: Facial grimacing, placing fist over midsternum, rubbing left arm, muscle tension,


Autonomic responses, e.g., tachycardia, blood pressure changes


May report: Dyspnea worse with exertion

History of smoking

May exhibit: Respirations: Increased rate/rhythm and alteration in depth


May report: Family history or risk factors of CAD, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, cigarette smoking, hyperlipidemia

Use/misuse of cardiac, hypertensive, or OTC drugs

Regular alcohol use, illicit drug use, e.g., cocaine, amphetamines

Discharge plan DRG projected mean length of inpatient stay: 3.2–4.2 days

considerations: Alteration in medication use/therapy

Assistance with homemaker/maintenance tasks

Changes in physical layout of home

Refer to section at end of plan for postdischarge considerations.


ECG: Often normal when patient at rest or when pain-free; depression of the ST segment or T wave inversion signifies

ischemia. Dysrhythmias and heart block may also be present. Significant Q waves are consistent with a prior MI.

24-hour ECG monitoring (Holter): Done to see whether pain episodes correlate with or change during exercise or activity. ST depression without pain is highly indicative of ischemia.

Exercise or pharmacological stress electrocardiography: Provides more diagnostic information, such as duration and level of activity attained before onset of angina. A markedly positive test is indicative of severe CAD. Note:

Studies have shown stress echo studies to be more accurate in some groups than exercise stress testing alone.

Cardiac enzymes (AST, CPK, CK and CK-MB; LDH and isoenzymes LD1, LD2): Usually within normal limits (WNL); elevation indicates myocardial damage.

Chest x-ray: Usually normal; however, infiltrates may be present, reflecting cardiac decompensation or pulmonary complications.

PCO2, potassium, and myocardial lactate: May be elevated during anginal attack (all play a role in myocardial ischemia and may perpetuate it).

Serum lipids (total lipids, lipoprotein electrophoresis, and isoenzymes cholesterols [HDL, LDL, VLDL]; triglycerides; phospholipids): May be elevated (CAD risk factor).

Echocardiogram: May reveal abnormal valvular action as cause of chest pain.

Nuclear imaging studies (rest or stress scan): Thallium-201: Ischemic regions appear as areas of decreased thallium uptake.

MUGA: Evaluates specific and general ventricle performance, regional wall motion, and ejection fraction.

Cardiac catheterization with angiography: Definitive test for CAD in patients with known ischemic disease with angina or incapacitating chest pain, in patients with cholesterolemia and familial heart disease who are experiencing chest pain, and in patients with abnormal resting ECGs. Abnormal results are present in valvular disease, altered contractility, ventricular failure, and circulatory abnormalities. Note: Ten percent of patients with unstable angina have normal-appearing coronary arteries.

Ergonovine (Ergotrate) injection: On occasion, may be used for patients who have angina at rest to demonstrate hyperspastic coronary vessels. (Patients with resting angina usually experience chest pain, ST elevation, or depression and/or pronounced rise in left ventricular end-diastolic pressure [LVEDP], fall in systemic systolic pressure, and/or high-grade coronary artery narrowing. Some patients may also have severe ventricular dysrhythmias.)


1. Relieve/control pain.

2. Prevent/minimize development of myocardial complications.

3. Provide information about disease process/prognosis and treatment.

4. Support patient/SO in initiating necessary lifestyle/behavioral changes.


1. Achieves desired activity level; meets self-care needs with minimal or no pain.

2. Free of complications.

3. Disease process/prognosis and therapeutic regimen understood.

4. Participating in treatment program, behavioral changes.

5. Plan in place to meet needs after discharge.