What is angina?

Angina is chest pain that occurs if an area of your heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen. A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, occurs when there is a blockage in an artery that supplies oxygen to the heart muscle, depriving the muscle of all oxygen. While both occur when there is decreased oxygen getting to the heart muscle, there are differences. Angina has two main forms: stable angina and unstable angina. Stable angina occurs when you exert yourself and the heart requires more oxygen. Due to the decreased flow of oxygen and the increased demand for oxygen caused by activity, chest pain in the form of angina occurs. With rest and decreased demand on the heart the chest pain goes away. Unstable angina is the same process but is not relieved by rest. In either case, the heart muscle is still getting oxygen, just less oxygen. With a heart attack, the muscle is completely deprived of oxygen and the chest pain persists. If the occlusion is not reversed, the heart muscle will die. The death of heart muscle is a heart attack. The chest pain from angina or from a heart attack can feel the same. Either may feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest. The pain also can occur in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back, or it may even feel like indigestion. Regardless of the cause of your chest pain, any chest pain should prompt an immediate visit to your doctor or emergency department.

Angina is a term in cardiology that means chest pain. Angina is caused by a lack of oxygen to the heart muscle. This can be due to narrowing or atherosclerosis and obstruction of arteries to the heart. 

Angina develops when plaque builds up in arteries in the heart, which slows blood flow and deprives the heart of oxygen-rich blood.

Angina, also called angina pectoris, is the discomfort or pain that occurs when a narrowed coronary artery decreases the blood supply to your heart muscle. People describe angina as discomfort, tightness, pressure, or pain in the chest, back, neck, shoulders, arms (especially the left arm), or jaw. These symptoms most often happen with increased activity or emotional stress. Angina is a sign that your heart muscle isn't getting the oxygen it needs. It doesn't cause permanent damage to your heart -- but it can be a warning of a heart attack. So even though some people experience angina for many years without ever having a heart attack, you should still take angina pain seriously.

If clogged arteries prevent enough oxygen-carrying blood from reaching your heart, the heart may respond with pain called angina pectoris. Episodes of angina occur when the heart's need for oxygen increases beyond the oxygen available from the blood nourishing the heart. Silent angina occurs when the same inadequate blood supply causes no symptoms. Microvascular angina occurs when the small vessels feeding the heart muscle are not functioning properly, most often due to fluctuations in vessel wall narrowing, in the absence of significant blockages in the major heart arteries.

Physical exertion is the most common trigger for angina. Other triggers can be emotional stress, extreme cold or heat, heavy meals, alcohol and cigarette smoking. The pain is a pressing or squeezing pain, usually felt in the chest or sometimes in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaws or back.

Angina refers to chest pain produced when blood flow to the heart is low. When blood flow is low, the heart gets an inadequate amount of oxygen. This causes feelings ranging from pressure to pain. Angina that occurs on a regular basis, usually related to exercise or physical activity, is called stable angina. Stable angina refers to angina that does not occur as part of a regular pattern of chest pain. Unstable angina can be new chest pain in people who have not experienced angina before, or chest pain that breaks the pattern of stable angina. Variant angina, or Prinzmetal's angina, is a rare type of angina that happens as a result of a coronary artery spasm.

Angina pectoris is a discomfort experienced when the heart muscle does not receive sufficient blood supply. It may consist of heaviness in the chest, a burning sensation or discomfort in the left arm, and in some cases, a pain in the left jaw.
Eric Olsen
Fitness Specialist

Angina pectoris or chest pain occurs when the heart's need for oxygen increases beyond the ability of clogged arteries to supply it. Any demand on the heart can bring on angina; increased exertion, for example, or even a strong emotion. The pain is a dull, crushing sensation, usually, that may extend into the shoulder or arm, often on the left side. The pain is the heart's warning that it's not getting what it needs.

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Dr. Ketan N. Desai, DO
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Angina is the medical term used to describe the pain or discomfort that is felt within the chest when a part of the heart does not receive enough blood flow. As an analogy, if you were to put a rubber band tightly over your finger, you will quickly see your fingertip turning blue and start hurting. This is because you have effectively stopped blood flow towards your fingertip. Similarly, if you have a blockage within the blood vessel that supplies blood flow to your heart, you will experience "heart pain" which is termed angina. Just like taking off the rubber band off of your finger would restore blood flow to your fingertip and relieve the discomfort, similarly opening up the blockage in the vessel to your heart will relieve the heart pain, or angina.

Angina can be categorized as stable vs unstable angina. Stable angina occurs when there is a severe but not complete blockage in the blood vessel, such that when you exert yourself, you develop the pain because your heart demands more blood flow as it works harder but cannot receive it because of the blockage. These kinds of blockages tend to develop over a long period of time with slow gradual narrowing of the vessel. This is different from unstable angina, whereby there is a more sudden development of a blockage typically as a result of a blood clot that forms within the vessel and stops up the blood flow.

Angina, or chest pain, strikes when the heart is not getting enough blood. You may feel pressure, tightness or a squeezing pain in your chest. You may also feel pain in your jaw, neck, shoulders, arms or back. Women are more likely than men to feel the pain in the arms or back or simply be short of breath. Usually, angina occurs during physical activity or stress, and goes away with rest.

Angina is a characteristic type of chest discomfort that emanates from the heart and is the result of insufficient circulation of blood to the heart muscle. A typical episode of angina generally has three components:  The sensation of a dull, mild, or left sided chest pressure or tightness lasting several minutes, onset with exercise or emotional stress, and relief of symptoms with rest, nitroglycerin (a commonly used heart medicine), or removal from stressful situation. It is important to keep in mind that angina does not always have to be in the chest; it can occur in the shoulders, upper arms, neck, jaw, and back. It is the most common symptom of coronary artery disease, which occurs when vessels that carry blood to the heart become narrowed and blocked due to arthrosclerosis. Patients experiencing these types of symptoms, especially for the first time, should notify their primary caregiver or go to the nearest emergency room.

Angina is the pain or discomfort associated with atherosclerosis, and is caused by clogged blood vessels that cannot deliver enough oxygen to the heart. People who have reasonably good heart function (no heart failure), but are not candidates for traditional surgical interventions such as angioplasty, stent placement, or bypass surgery, and who still experience pain while taking medications for angina, are ideal candidates for transmyocardial revascularization (TMR).

When Coronary Artery Disease causes chest pain, it is called Angina Pectoris. As many as 6.2 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with Angina. It?s usually described as heaviness, pressure, squeezing or aching in the front, central area of the chest. Angina pains sometimes radiate to the left shoulder or even down the left arm, back, neck or jaw. Only occasionally will angina pains radiate down the right arm.

Angina occurs with exertion and resolves with rest. Generally, it lasts only a few minutes. An onset can occur during a heavy meal, during cold weather or during increased emotional stress. Angina should not fell worse when you take deep breaths, bend over, press on the chest or twist in certain positions. Sometimes angina can be confused with indigestion.

A physical exam of someone with angina is often normal. Still, the signs of other diseases that are common risk factors for Coronary Artery Disease can be detected during the exam.

Laboratory tests will be abnormal during a heart attack, when heart muscle cells die. These tests will be normal during angina. The lack of oxygen to the cells during angina is temporary and cell death does not occur.

A recurring pain or discomfort in the chest that happens when some part of the heart does not receive enough blood. It is a common symptom of coronary heart disease, which occurs when vessels that carry blood to the heart become narrowed and blocked due to atherosclerosis. Angina feels like a pressing or squeezing pain, usually in the chest under the breast bone, but sometimes in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaws, or back. Angina is usually is brought on by exertion, and relieved within a few minutes by resting or by taking prescribed angina medicine.

This answer from the National Women's Health Information Center has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. William D. Knopf.

When your coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked, oxygen-rich blood can't reach your heart muscle. This can cause angina or a heart attack.

Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when not enough oxygen-rich blood is flowing to an area of your heart muscle. Angina may feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest. The pain also may occur in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back.

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to an area of your heart muscle is completely blocked. This prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching that area of heart muscle and causes it to die. Without quick treatment, a heart attack can lead to serious problems and even death.

This answer from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. Robert S. Kaufmann.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.