Home Cardiovascular Disease Chest Pain (Angina)

Chest Pain (Angina)

What is angina?

Angina, or angina pectoris, is the medical term for chest pain, pressure, or tightness. Angina is caused by reduced blood flow to the heart, indicating underlying coronary artery disease, or heart disease, which puts you at greater risk for a heart attack. Heart disease is caused by atherosclerosis, where fatty plaque builds up in your arteries and they get stiffer and narrower, making it more difficult for blood to flow through. Blood carries oxygen, so when blood flow to your heart is restricted, the heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen and this can cause chest pain (similar to a cramp).

Not all chest discomfort is angina. For example, acid reflux (heartburn) and lung infection or inflammation can also cause chest pain.

What are stable and unstable angina?

The two main types of angina are stable and unstable. Stable angina, sometimes called chronic stable angina, is recurrent pain or discomfort in your chest, and possibly your jaw, shoulder, back, or arm.1 It differs from unstable angina because stable angina is predictable; it is usually triggered by specific things that cause your heart muscle to need more oxygen than usual, such as physical exertion or emotional stress. Unstable angina has no recognizable pattern and can occur when a person is at rest. Stable angina generally goes away when you rest or when you take nitroglycerin, a medication that dilates (widens) your blood vessels allowing more blood and oxygen to reach your heart.

How common is stable angina?

Each year, about 400,000 new cases of stable angina are diagnosed in the US.2 More American women than men suffer from stable angina: about 3.3 million compared with 3.2 million men.3 Women who have stable angina are usually older than men with stable angina.4 Among women aged 20 or older, 3.5% of white women have stable angina, 4.7% of African-American women, and 2.2% of Mexican-American women.3