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What is angina?

Heart
  • Angina is pain or discomfort that comes when your heart does not get enough oxygen. Angina is usually a symptom of a heart problem known as coronary heart disease (CHD), also called coronary artery disease (CAD)1
  • Your heart is a muscle. It pumps oxygen-rich blood to your whole body. Your heart also needs oxygen to work. Blood vessels called coronary arteries carry blood with oxygen to your heart1,2

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
  • VesselWith 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

There are four types of angina1,2:

  1. Chronic angina
  2. 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*

  3. Unstable angina
  4. Unstable angina happens with or without physical activity — even while you are at rest or sleeping. If you have unstable angina, you could be at risk of a heart attack. If you have pain that is getting worse or does not go away with rest or nitroglycerin, you could be having a heart attack. You should get emergency medical help right away. In this type of angina, you cannot tell what will trigger an attack. Unstable angina is more severe and usually lasts as long as 30 minutes.
    • 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

  5. Variant angina
  6. Variant angina is a rare type of angina. It happens without warning. The pain is caused by sudden tightening or spasm of a coronary artery. It most often happens at rest, between midnight and early morning. The pain can be severe.
    • 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

  7. Microvascular angina
  8. Microvascular angina can be a more severe type of angina that lasts longer. The pain is caused by spasms within the walls of small arterial blood vessels.
    • No common triggers: occurs during daily activities and during times of mental stress
    • Relieved by: nothing reliably relieves microvascular angina

*If you have angina that does not go away with rest or nitroglycerin, get emergency medical help right away.

If you still have angina even though you are getting treatment, talk with your doctor about your options.

The information on this website does not take the place of talking with your cardiologist or healthcare professional.

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