7 Surprising Facts About Angina

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Ashley Festa on May 26, 2020
  • Human heart
    Angina Information You Might Not Know
    Angina is pain or pressure in your chest caused by lack of oxygen to your heart. This may be caused by a narrowed or blocked coronary artery, which reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. You may get angina with physical exertion, though it often subsides after a few minutes of rest. As the artery narrows, the pain will occur with less and less exertion. Get more angina facts here.
  • illustration of artery filled with hard plaque (atherosclerosis)
    1. Angina is not a disease.
    Angina isn’t a disease, but rather a symptom of an underlying condition. Most often, the problem is coronary artery disease (CAD). People often use the term interchangeably with coronary heart disease (CHD), though coronary artery disease is actually a common cause of coronary heart disease. Angina is also a symptom of microvascular disease (MVD), another cause of heart disease more common in women than men. Other causes include coronary artery spasm, severe anemia, and the use of certain drugs, such as cocaine.
  • Exercising with chest pain
    2. There is more than one type of angina.
    There are two common types of angina. If they’ve already been diagnosed with coronary artery disease with angina, people with stable angina usually aren’t surprised to feel discomfort in their chest during physical exertion. When they stop the activity, the chest pain stops.

    If the pain happens more often with less physical exertion, it may be a warning sign of unstable angina. This condition, also known as acute coronary syndrome, can occur while you’re at rest. The pain is usually unexpected, and rest doesn’t relieve the symptoms. Unstable angina should be considered an emergency situation because it can lead to a heart attack. Another type of angina, Prinzmetal’s angina (also called variant angina or angina inversa) is caused by a sudden spasm in the coronary artery. This type of angina is rare.
  • Doctor looking at patient suffering from pain
    3. Angina symptoms may surprise you.
    While it’s never pleasant to feel pain, the surprise of it may be the worst part. The same goes for angina, and when you aren’t expecting chest pain, you need to have a doctor evaluate you right away. This could be a sign of unstable angina or a symptom of a heart attack. However, if you’ve been diagnosed with stable angina, you may come to expect discomfort when you’re going up a couple flights of stairs or exercising. Angina is often a sign of coronary artery disease, which can be treated. Besides pain in your chest, you may also feel discomfort in your neck, jaw, shoulder, back or arm.
  • pill-in-hand
    4. Nitroglycerin can relieve angina symptoms.
    Despite what Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck portray in Looney Tunes, nitroglycerin is safe to use as an angina remedy. In its pure form, nitroglycerin is explosive, but when diluted for medication, it acts as a muscle relaxant. It works by opening up coronary arteries, allowing more oxygen-rich blood to go to the heart. Nitroglycerin can be used as a fast-acting tablet to relieve an acute angina attack, or it can be used as a pill or patch to prevent angina attacks.
  • Nurse taking woman's blood pressure
    5. You may need to treat underlying conditions for pain relief.
    Angina treatment includes more than just managing attacks. Your doctor may recommend treatment for underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a blocked artery. These angina treatments could include medicine or a medical procedure, either angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery. Unstable angina, the more serious form of the condition, will likely require surgery. In addition to medication, healthy lifestyle changes can help treat stable angina—stop smoking, start exercising, eat a heart-healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight.
  • man-with-hand-on-head
    6. Emotional stress can trigger angina.
    In addition to physical stress like vigorous exercise or climbing stairs, mental and emotional stress can trigger an angina attack. Other triggers include being in excessively hot or cold temperatures, eating a heavy meal, or smoking. To reduce your chance of an angina attack, eat smaller meals, protect yourself from extreme temperatures, stop smoking, and learn stress management techniques that work for you.
  • Middle age Caucasian woman holding stomach in pain while standing next to kitchen counter
    7. Men and women often have different angina causes and symptoms.
    Men and women often have different kinds of coronary artery blockages. In men, heart disease is usually caused by obstructive coronary artery disease (CAD). Women with heart disease, however, are more likely to have microvascular disease (MVD), where the blockages develop in tiny arteries that branch out from the two major coronary arteries. Younger women with lower levels of estrogen or high blood pressure are at a higher risk for MVD. While chest pain is still a symptom of angina in women, it may not be the most noticeable one. Women are more likely to experience abdominal pain, nausea, breathlessness or a stabbing pain in the chest, rather than pressure.
Angina Facts & Information | 7 Surprising Facts About Angina

About The Author

Ashley Festa is a Greenville, S.C.-based freelance writer and editor who has been writing professionally for nearly two decades. In addition to Healthgrades, she also has written for Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, the University of Texas at Arlington School of Nursing and Health Innovation, and Fit Pregnancy magazine.
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  10. Nitroglycerin. National Library of Medicine. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Nitroglycerin
  11. Coronary Microvascular Disease (MVD). American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/angina-chest-pain/coronary-microvascular-disease-mvd
  12. Coronary Artery Disease - Coronary Heart Disease. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/coronary-artery-disease
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 May 21
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.