Angina is a type of chest pain or discomfort that occurs when not enough blood flows to the heart muscle. The discomfort may not always be in the chest. It may feel like pressure in the chest, jaw or arm.
Angina usually occurs because the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart (coronary arteries) become narrow due to atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries) or a spasm of the coronary arteries.
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 a clear 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, or 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 also can happen 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.