What is angina?
Coronary heart disease and angina
- In healthy coronary arteries, blood flows freely to bring oxygen to the heart. In coronary heart disease, these arteries become stiff and narrow. This lowers blood flow and the amount of oxygen that gets to the heart
- With exercise or emotional stress, the heart works harder and needs more oxygen. Lower blood flow can lead to angina. You could feel discomfort or pain in the chest, arm, shoulder, back, neck, or jaw. When angina has been present for months or years without much change, it is called chronic stable angina. It most often goes away with rest or nitroglycerin1,2,*
- If a clot forms in a coronary artery, it can further block blood flow. This can lead to chest pain known as unstable angina. It often occurs at rest. Unstable angina is a medical emergency and requires medical help right away1,2,*
In summary, when blood flow is reduced, your heart does not get as much oxygen as it needs. It cannot pump blood like it should. This lack of oxygen can cause the pain and discomfort of angina. If you have coronary heart disease, angina is the way your heart tells you it needs more oxygen.1,2
Types of angina
- Chronic angina Chronic angina can occur during physical activity or emotional stress. These are times when the heart is working harder. An episode of chronic angina usually lasts ﬁve minutes or less. Certain activities can trigger angina. People usually know what things will cause them to have angina.
- Common triggers: physical activity such as climbing stairs or lifting heavy objects; emotional stress; extreme heat or cold; eating large meals; smoking
- Relieved by: resting or nitroglycerin*
- No common triggers: can occur with little or no physical activity; at rest or while sleeping
- Relieved by: nothing reliably relieves unstable angina. You should get emergency medical help right away
- Common triggers: emotional stress; extreme cold; smoking; use of cocaine or of medicines that narrow blood vessels; usually occurs while at rest or while sleeping
- Relieved by: medicine; seek medical attention immediately
- No common triggers: occurs during daily activities and during times of mental stress
- Relieved by: nothing reliably relieves microvascular angina