Angina

Overview


What is Angina?

Angina is a type of pain that occurs when not enough blood flows to the heart muscle. It may feel like pressure in the chest, jaw or arm.

Angina usually occurs because the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart become narrow due to atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries) or a spasm of the coronary arteries.

Types of Angina

Stable angina is a pain or tightness often triggered by a consistent high level of activity, such as walking upstairs after an emotional discussion or during stressful times. It is often predictable. Situations that make your heart work harder, such as cold weather or eating large meals, can result in chest pain if you have heart disease.

Resting, relaxing and potentially taking a nitroglycerin can relieve this pain.

Unstable angina is chest pain or tightness that occurs without an obvious trigger, or a sudden worsening of your stable angina. You may notice that you can’t exercise as well as you used to before getting chest pain, that the pain is more intense or lasts longer.

This is an emergency, and you should see your health care professional right away. If you are having active pain, you should go to the emergency room and call 911. 

Variant angina is chest pain or pressure that occurs when the coronary artery suddenly spasms or contracts, cutting off blood flow to the heart muscle. This type of chest pain is also called Prinzmetal’s angina or vasospastic angina. Although the spasm is usually temporary, it can result in the same type of pain caused by a heart attack or coronary artery disease.

Although drugs such as cocaine are associated with coronary artery spasm, it can happen for unknown reasons in people who have never taken cocaine.

Variant angina typically occurs at rest. It is slightly more frequent at night but can happen in the morning or any time of day. It usually lasts a few minutes and then goes away. It can be relieved with nitroglycerin. 

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Published: August 2017
Editorial Team Lead: Susan A. Matulevicius, MD, FACC
Medical Contributors and Reviewers: Ashish Aneja, MBBS, FACC; Nkechinyere Ijioma, MBBS, FACC; Antoine T. Jenkins, PHARMD; Nisha Jhalani, MD, FACC; Ion S. Jovin, MD, FACC; Ajay J. Kirtane, MD, FACC; Dorothy L. Murphy, NP, AACC

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