Angina pectoris, or angina, is chest pain. It happens due to a painful tightening of the heart muscle. It occurs when your heart needs more oxygen-rich blood than the body can supply. Angina isn’t a condition. It’s a warning sign of heart disease.
Coronary artery disease (CAD)
CAD is the top cause of angina in men and women. It occurs when deposits called plaques build up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. The arteries narrow or harden (atherosclerosis), reducing blood flow to the heart. This lack of blood flow results in myocardial ischemia. It puts people at risk for a heart attack (myocardial infarction).
Coronary microvascular disease (MVD)
Women are more likely than men to have angina from MVD. This condition damages the walls and lining of tiny blood vessels that branch from coronary arteries. It decreases blood flow to the heart, causing coronary spasms.
During a coronary spasm, the coronary arteries repeatedly constrict (tighten) and then open up. These spasms temporarily restrict blood flow to the heart. You can have coronary spasms without having coronary artery disease. Spasms can affect large or small coronary arteries.
This type is the most common. It follows a consistent pattern for at least two months. It mostly happens during moments of physical exertion or stress. You can usually predict what will trigger this type of angina. Stable angina improves when you’re resting or relaxed. The condition can progress to unstable angina, which isn’t predictable.
This type comes on without warning, often when you’re resting. A blood clot in an artery is often the cause. Unstable angina can indicate a heart attack. It is a medical emergency.
MVD, which affects the heart’s smallest coronary artery blood vessels, often causes microvascular angina. It can come on during daily activities or times of stress. Chest pain typically lasts longer than other types of angina. You may have pain for 10 to 30 minutes.
Variant (Prinzmetal) angina
Coronary spasms cause this rare type. It accounts for just 2 out of 100 angina incidents. The spasms and angina are more likely to occur at night and follow a pattern. Substance use disorder, smoking, cold weather, certain medications and stress can cause spasms. Younger people are more likely to develop this type of angina.
Gas or upset stomach (indigestion).
Nausea and vomiting.
Pain in the neck, jaw, shoulder or back.
Shortness of breath (dyspnea).
Complete blood count (CBC).
Cardiac stress test.
Coronary angiography and cardiac catheterization.
Coronary computed tomography angiogram (CTA).
Do some type of physical activity for at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) every week.
Eat a heart-healthy diet.
Find healthy ways to manage stress like meditation, yoga or talking to a friend.
Lose weight, if needed, and maintain a healthy weight.
Manage high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Quit smoking and seek help for substance use disorder.
Your healthcare provider will treat the heart condition, which should ease angina.
You may need Coronary angioplasty and stenting (also called percutaneous coronary intervention or PCI) or coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery to improve blood flow to the heart.
Some patients may not require either of these and medications alone may be adequate. The final treatment is based on your symptoms as well as the findings from testing.
Even with treatment, some people still have angina.
Your provider may prescribe a medication to quickly open blood vessels (vasodilators) when you have pain. Nitroglycerin is a common angina medication.
Other medications for angina include:
Anti-clotting drugs (antiplatelets)
High blood pressure medications.