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What Is Angina Pectoris

What is angina pectoris - Learn more about angina signs and symptoms, including angina symptoms in women, and angina causes.

What is Angina Pectoris ?

Angina pectoris is the medical term for chest pain or the feeling of pressure in the chest caused by restricted blood flow and insufficient oxygen supply to the heart, a condition called ischemia.

When the arteries supplying blood and oxygen to the heart are blocked, the blood flow to the heart muscle is obstructed and the heart does not get enough oxygen, resulting in chest pain.

A bout of angina is not a heart attack, but it means that people who have angina are more likely to have a heart attack than people who do not.

Just like the pain of a heart attack, angina can radiate to the left shoulder and down the inside of the left arm, straight through to the back and into the throat, the jaw, and even the right arm. The pain typically lasts for only 1 to 20 minutes and sometimes can be confused with the pain of indigestion.

More than 6 million Americans have angina pectoris. It is more common in men than women and generally affects people over the age of 50, although it can also occur in younger people.

As angina is relatively common, and because sometimes it is difficult to distinguish angina from other types of chest pain (e.g. pain caused by heartburn), it is therefore important to see a doctor immediately if you have unexplained chest pain.

What is Angina Pectoris - Types of Angina

There are three types of angina - stable angina, unstable angina, and variant angina.

Stable Angina

This is the most common type of angina. It tends to occur after physical exertion, under emotional stress, or during moments of excitement. It is a result of a fixed obstruction of blood flow to the heart because a coronary artery has been severely narrowed due to the build-up of fatty deposits (plaques).

At rest, when the heart is not working too hard, narrowed arteries may still allow enough blood to reach the heart when the demand for oxygen is low. Therefore, no pain is felt.

However, under exertion or strain, the heart has to work harder and needs more oxygen, which it cannot get. Therefore, the pain of angina is felt. With rest, the angina attack symptoms improve.

Stable angina is not a heart attack but can indicate the possibility of a heart attack occurring in the future.

Unstable Angina

Unstable angina is more serious and can quickly progress to a heart attack. It occurs more often in older adults, and can happen at times of rest, such as during sleep, or it may happen during physical exertion.

Unstable angina occurs as a result of a sudden interruption of blood flow to the heart and, in most cases, is caused by blood clots that partially or totally block a coronary artery.

Variant Angina

Variant angina, also called Prinzmetal's angina, is rare (accounts for about 2 percent of angina cases). It is caused by a spasm in a coronary artery. This spasm causes the walls of the artery to tighten, making the artery narrower and causing the blood flow to the heart to slow or stop.


What is Angina Pectoris - Causes and Triggers

The most common cause of angina is coronary artery disease (CAD), which occurs when the arteries leading to the heart become narrowed or blocked by fatty deposits called plaques. The narrowing or blockage of coronary arteries is called atherosclerosis.

Stable angina is usually triggered by physical exertion, emotional stress, very cold or hot temperatures, heavy meals and smoking.

Unstable angina is caused by blood clots that partially or totally block an artery. Unstable angina may seem like a heart attack. The difference is the amount of time that an artery stays blocked. In unstable angina, the blood clot dissolves within a short period of time so there is no permanent damage to the heart muscle. In a heart attack, however, the clot does not dissolve in time, causing permanent damage to the heart muscle.

Variant angina is caused by a spasm in a coronary artery. The spasm causes the walls of the artery to tighten; this narrows the artery, causing blood flow to the heart to slow or stop.


What is Angina Pectoris - Risk Factors

The risk factors for angina are the same as the risk factors for developing heart disease, which include:
  • Age
  • Male gender
  • Menopause
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking or exposure to second hand smoke
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Stress

Related Topics

Angina Signs and Symptoms
Natural Cure for Angina


Balch and Stengler, Prescription for Natural Cures, (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004) (

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