Home Cardiovascular Disease Chest Pain (Angina) - Symptoms & Diagnosis

Chest Pain (Angina) - Symptoms & Diagnosis

What are the symptoms of stable angina?

People with stable angina usually feel discomfort (often a pressure-like pain) in or around the chest, shoulders, jaw, neck, back, or arms. It may feel like a squeezing or pressing sensation in the chest. The pain usually lasts 2 to 5 minutes.

One study found that women felt more pain in the back of their shoulder and middle back area than men,6 and another found that women feel pain more often in their throat, neck, and jaw areas.7

If you have chest pain that is more of a fleeting discomfort or a dull ache lasting for hours, it is probably NOT stable angina.1 If you have chest pain that does not go away within 15 minutes, episodes of chest pain that are getting progressively worse, or if you begin to experience chest pain when at rest, you may have unstable angina; this is a more serious condition and you should go to the emergency room.

How is stable angina diagnosed?

Stable angina can usually be diagnosed by the symptoms that you describe to your healthcare provider. That’s why it is very important that you accurately describe your symptoms to your healthcare provider, especially what brings on the chest pain, what relieves it, and how long episodes tend to last. Stable angina is marked by chest pain that occurs during exercise and is relieved with rest; it follows a predictable pattern and you can usually anticipate when it will occur. On the other hand, unstable angina is marked by chest pain that occurs while at rest or that increases in frequency or intensity compared to your usual pattern.

Because stable angina is associated with underlying heart disease, it is likely that you will undergo some diagnostic procedures to determine whether or not you have heart disease. These tests may include an exercise electrocardiogram (ECG), a stress echocardiogram or ultrasound of the heart, or a nuclear stress test, in which a radioactive dye is injected to produce computer pictures of your heart muscle and arteries. These tests can determine the extent of the blockages in your arteries. You may also undergo cardiac catheterization, which involves an angiogram or X-ray of the coronary arteries. For women with stable angina, the signs of heart disease are often less obvious than in men with stable angina.8 Women are less likely than men to have significant amounts of fatty plaque buildup in the arteries of their heart. If there are no signs of underlying heart disease during these diagnostic procedures, you may be diagnosed with Syndrome X.

Next: Treatment of Stable Chest Pain


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