What does an angina attack feel like?

Angina attacks are a type of chest pain that occurs when the heart is not getting enough blood. An angina attack feels like squeezing pressure in your chest, back, arms, neck or shoulders. You may also feel like you have indigestion or an upset stomach.
Angina attacks are a type of chest pain that occurs when the heart is not getting enough blood. An angina attack feels like squeezing pressure in your chest, back, arms, neck or shoulders. You may also feel like you have indigestion or an upset stomach.

Angina attacks are chest pains caused when there is not enough oxygen-rich blood getting to your heart. Your heart may beat harder and faster, trying to improve the blood flow. Angina may be a symptom of an underlying heart problem.

An angina attack feels like squeezing or pressure in your chest, or can be similar to the feeling of indigestion. This pain can also spread to your back, arms, neck, or shoulders. It may even feel like an upset stomach. Angina symptoms may go away when you’re at rest, but they can also occur without physical exertion.

What is an angina attack?

Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart is not getting enough blood and oxygen. It can be a symptom of coronary artery disease, when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become hardened and narrowed. This happens when there is a buildup of plaque (fatty deposits) in the walls of your arteries (blood vessels), which makes it hard for your heart to pump blood around your body. 

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of an angina attack is important for identifying when you might be at risk for a heart attack and ensuring you get the medical treatment you need. Although an angina attack does not cause permanent damage, it can be a sign that something is seriously wrong.

Signs and symptoms of an angina attack

The main signs of an angina attack are discomfort and pain. Angina is described as pressure, burning, or tightness in the chest that might spread to the back and shoulders. Symptoms can vary between men and women, as well as between the different types of angina. 

Other symptoms of an angina attack include:

If you notice any of these signs, you should seek medical care right away. 

Types of angina attacks

There are four main types of angina:

  • Stable angina — This is when the heart is working harder than usual and usually follows a pattern after physical activity or exertion. Your doctor may recommend rest and medication to help you find relief.
  • Unstable angina — This is the most dangerous type of angina. It's unpredictable and can happen without physical exertion. If you are experiencing this type of angina, it could be a sign that you're at higher risk to have a heart attack. 
  • Microvascular angina — This is a sign of heart disease and affects the small heart arteries. This type of angina attack can cause more pain and last longer than other types.
  • Variant angina — This type of angina is rare. It happens unexpectedly when you are resting. 

Causes of angina attacks

Angina is usually caused by a buildup of plaque in the walls of your arteries (also known as coronary artery disease). This can narrow the arteries in your body and make it harder for your heart to pump blood. In addition to heart disease, other medical conditions or lifestyle habits can cause angina. Spasms that tighten your arteries are another cause of angina.

Common triggers of angina attacks include:

Strenuous activity

If you’re exercising or doing strenuous activity and feel chest pain, it could be a sign of an angina attack. Take breaks and let your body rest. 

Eating too much

If you experience an angina attack after eating a heavy meal, avoid large portions and rich foods.

Stress

Angina can be triggered by stress. If you experience angina during stressful situations, practicing stress-relieving strategies like mindfulness can help.

The key is identifying what is triggering symptoms of angina in your body. By understanding what causes it, you can help discover what can help prevent it from happening in the first place. If you’re unsure of where to start, your doctor can help you narrow it down so you can find relief.

Diagnosing angina attacks

Your doctor may be able to diagnose an angina attack with an EKG. They can also recommend an exercise tolerance test that measures your heart rate and heart rhythm using an electrocardiograph (a machine that measures electrical activity in the heart). One reading is taken when you are exercising, and one is taken when you are resting. These tests help determine when your heart might be working harder and how your heart reacts under stress.

Other tests for angina include:

Treatments for angina attacks

Treatments for angina attacks and heart disease can include:

Medications

Heart medication is used to manage the risk of heart disease and prevent future heart attacks. The type of medication prescribed depends on your unique symptoms. 

Cardiac procedures

  • Opening up arteries with a special balloon or stent 
  • Coronary artery bypass, a surgery used to get blood to your heart when other arteries are blocked

Lifestyle changes

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating well and getting good nutrition
  • Reducing the intake of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol
  • Being physically active every day
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing stress
  • Limiting alcohol 

If your doctor finds your chest pain to be the result of another condition, they will recommend treatments to help.

IMAGES

Heart Illustration Browse through our medical image collection to see illustrations of human anatomy and physiology See Images

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 2/22/2021
References
SOURCES:

Heart Foundation: "Angina."

Heart.org: "Angina."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Angina."

CONTINUE SCROLLING FOR RELATED SLIDESHOW