Last updated: November 4, 2021
When the heart does not receive sufficient oxygen-rich blood flowing through it, discomfort and chest pain result. This chest pain is called “angina.” Some people describe angina as pressure or a tight chest squeeze. Angina is not a disease. Rather, angina is a symptom of other heart issues, such as coronary heart disease.
Several types of angina exist, including stable angina, unstable angina, variant (Prinzmetal’s) angina, microvascular angina, and atypical angina. Different types of angina have different symptoms and different triggers that cause the symptoms.
Stable angina describes angina pectoris. This type of angina occurs in connection with coronary heart disease when the heart is deprived of sufficient amounts of blood. This situation typically occurs due to narrowing or blockages of coronary arteries. Blocked arteries may enable sufficient blood flow to the heart during periods of rest or light physical exertion. However, when the heart must pump faster to keep up with more physical exertion, the narrowed arteries will not allow enough blood to flow through them, and angina will occur.
Unstable angina may also be called “acute coronary syndrome.” With unstable angina, chest pain occurs unexpectedly, even at rest. Atherosclerosis, fatty buildup in coronary arteries, may lead to a rupture. This could completely block blood flow to the heart. Unstable angina is an emergency situation that could lead to a heart attack.
Variant or Prinzmetal’s angina is an uncommon type of angina, typically occurring in younger people. Variant angina usually happens while a person is sleeping during the overnight hours. This type of angina is exceedingly painful, and it occurs from a spasm of the coronary arteries.
Microvascular angina is often associated with coronary microvascular disease. This type of heart disease involves the smallest coronary artery blood vessels of the heart. When these tiny arterial blood vessels spasm, the flow of blood to the heart becomes restricted. This restriction causes angina symptoms.
Some people experience angina that does not fit the normal symptom parameters. This type of angina is called atypical angina. Women usually experience atypical angina more than men do. Atypical angina symptoms include:
Angina typically involves a group of symptoms centering on the heart in the upper body. If pain or pressure in the chest lasts more than a moment or two and does not subside with rest, get medical assistance immediately. Medical intervention, including CPR, can limit permanent damage from a heart attack. Anyone can perform CPR and restore blood flow to the heart muscle in the event of a heart attack.
The symptoms include:
There are certain things that increase your risk of angina, particularly if your vessels are already blocked. Some of these situations that aggravate angina pectoris include:
Angina increases the risk of a cardiovascular event, like a heart attack. Angina pectoris means that your heart is not getting enough oxygen. Familiarizing yourself with basic life support (BLS) for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can save lives.
Treatment depends on your overall health and the severity of the pain. The goal is usually to treat it with a medication that improves blood flow to the heart.
The most common medication for angina is nitroglycerin, which is taken up to three times following the start of chest pain but cannot be taken in conjunction with erectile dysfunction medications.
Other medications also treat angina, like:
Angina Pectoris resources
Written by Judith Haluka and last updated Jan 28, 2015
Last reviewed by Caitlin Goodwin on Oct 27, 2020