What is Angina?
If you experience chest pain, you are commonly suffering from what is called “angina.”
Angina is pain or discomfort caused when your heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. It may feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest. The discomfort also can occur in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back. Angina pain may even feel like indigestion. But, angina is not a disease. It is a symptom of an underlying heart problem, usually coronary heart disease.1
Any angina is a sign that should not be ignored. When the heart is not getting enough oxygen and blood flow, your body sets off warning signals that the heart is at risk of damage. Angina is the specific type of pain you experience when the heart is in trouble but does not necessarily mean you are having a heart attack. A heart attack is when the lack of blood flow starts to cause real damage to the heart.2 It can be hard to tell the difference, so seek medical attention right away if there is any question.
Angina is characterized as “stable” or “unstable”:
The word “stable” can be misleading, as stable is not necessarily positive. People with stable angina have episodes of chest pain, but the discomfort is usually predictable and manageable. Activities like running or experiencing stress may bring it on, and the pain is usually relieved with rest and/or nitroglycerin.3 However, the fact that you are having recurring chest pain is a sign your vessels are chronically becoming blocked and you should tell your doctor about it to determine what might be done.
Unstable angina is always of concern and should be treated as an emergency. Unstable angina is chest pain that comes as a surprise and may last longer than previous angina episodes. It usually occurs while resting, sleeping or with little physical exertion. It may get worse over time and rest or medicine do not relieve the pain. It may feel different than previous stable angina episodes. Unstable angina may mean you are having a heart attack. If you experience new, worsening or persistent pain that won’t go away, you should immediately go to the emergency room (ER).4
Stable angina can become unstable. If the pattern of your pain changes over the course of a short period time and becomes worse, your angina has become unstable and you should immediately alert your doctor.
If your angina results in a diagnosis of coronary artery disease, you should know that there are several options to treat your heart. These include medicine, lifestyle changes, drug-eluting stents and a new advancement called bioadaptors, which open up your arteries and may offer long-term benefits over stents. Talk with your doctor about the best option for you.
Learn more about Coronary Artery Disease, symptoms and treatments.
- Angina (chest pain). American Heart Association. Accessed October 13, 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/angina-chest-pain
- What is a heart attack. American Heart Association. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/about-heart-attacks
- Angina pectoris (stable angina). American Heart Association. Accessed October 13, 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/angina-chest-pain/angina-pectoris-stable-angina
- Unstable angina. American Heart Association. Accessed October 13, 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/angina-chest-pain/unstable-angina