What is angina?
Angina (also termed angina pectoris) is a condition characterized by chest pain, sometimes severe, that is caused by an inadequate blood supply to the heart. The pain may wax and wane. It may also spread to the shoulders, arms and or neck. Although this is the classic definition of angina, there are important variations in symptoms and types (stable, unstable, variant, and microvascular).
What are angina symptoms?
The main symptoms of angina are pain and chest discomfort. The type of pain varies and may be described as pressure, squeezing, burning, or tightness. Other signs and symptoms may include nausea, fatigue, short of breath, sweating, and dizziness. Women, especially young women, are more likely to feel neck, jaw, abdomen, or back pain or discomfort. Shortness of breath is more common in older persons and those who have diabetes. The classic angina symptoms usually occur in younger and middle aged men.
The following is adapted from the American Heart Association's lists of symptoms for each type of angina.
What are symptoms for stable angina?
- Occurs when the heart must work harder, usually during physical exertion
- Doesn't come as a surprise, and episodes of pain tend to be alike
- Usually lasts a short time (5 minutes or less)
- Is relieved by rest or medicine
- May feel like gas or indigestion
- May feel like chest pain that spreads to the arms, back, or other areas
What are symptoms for unstable angina?
- Often occurs while you may be resting, sleeping, or with little physical exertion
- Comes as a surprise
- May last longer than stable angina
- Rest or medicine usually do not help relieve it
- May get worse over time
- Can lead to a heart attack
What are symptoms for variant (Prinzmetal)?
- Usually occurs while resting and during the night or early morning hours
- Are usually severe
- Can be relieved by taking medication
What are symptoms for microvascular angina pain?
Microvascular angina pain or discomfort:
- May be more severe and last longer than other types of angina pain
- May occur with shortness of breath, sleep problems, fatigue, and lack of energy
- Often is first noticed during routine daily activities and times of mental stress
Angina may be the first step towards a myocardial infarction (heart attack) in some people. If you have chest pains and are not sure why, have someone call 9-1-1.
Medically reviewed by Robert J. Bryg, MD; Board Certified Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Cardiovascular Disease
"Angina Pectoris." American Heart Association. 19 Mar 2013.