What is Angina?

Angina is a type of chest pain or chest discomfort that is caused by poor blood flow to your heart. The most common cause of angina is coronary heart disease, which, if left untreated, can increase your risk of future heart attack, heart failure and heart rhythm abnormalities.

Symptoms of Angina

Angina symptoms are similar to heart attack symptoms, and may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Chest pressure or squeezing
  • Pain in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive sweating

Types of Angina

There are two common types of angina:

  1. Stable angina: Stable angina has a regular pattern as to how often it occurs, how severe it is, and factors that trigger it. It is most often triggered by physical exertion. With stable angina, you may be able to predict when the pain will occur and stop it by resting or taking your medication.
  2. Unstable angina: Unstable angina is unpredictable and may not be relieved with medication or rest. It can be a sign of an upcoming heart attack, so it requires emergency treatment.

Who is at Risk for Angina?

Angina risk factors may include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Gender (Angina is more common in males.)
  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity
  • Family history of heart disease

How is Angina Diagnosed?

There are a number of tests your doctor can do to diagnose angina. Some are done to rule out heart attacks or other heart conditions. Tests to diagnose angina may include:

  • ECG
  • Blood tests
  • Stress testing
  • Echocardiography tests
  • Cardiac MRI tests
  • Nuclear medicine tests
  • Computerized tomography scan of coronary arteries
  • Coronary angiography

Treatment for Angina

Nitrates, such as nitroglycerin, are the most common medications used to treat angina. They work by widening the blood vessels so that more blood can get to the heart.

Other medications used in the treatment of angina may include:

  • Beta blockers
  • Nitroglycerin and long acting nitrates
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Ranolazine
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Antiplatelet medications
  • Anticoagulants (blood thinners)

Angina treatment may also include the following lifestyle changes:

  • Slowing down if physical exertion triggers angina
  • Avoiding large meals and rich foods
  • Controlling weight, cholesterol and blood pressure through diet and exercise
  • Quitting smoking or avoiding secondhand smoke

If You Have Angina

If you've been diagnosed with angina, a team of health care professionals at Wake Forest Baptist Health will help you with lifestyle changes that can improve your symptoms and prevent further damage to your heart. Your team may include heart doctors (cardiologists), nurse specialists, nutritionists and others.

You may request an appointment with a Heart Center doctor by filling out our online form.

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Patient Sally Irvin

“I had two heart attacks, but none of the classic symptoms.”

Sally Irvin was 50 years old when she had her first heart attack. She had another one four years later. Learn how her symptoms were misinterpreted and why heart disease is the number one killer of men AND women.

Last Updated: 01-06-2014
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Disclaimer: The information on this website is for general informational purposes only and SHOULD NOT be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice, evaluation or care from your physician or other qualified health care provider.