Angina: Symptoms, Causes, and Diagnosis

Angina is commonly known as chest pain, which occurs due to lack of blood supply to the heart. It may feel like discomfort with squeezing and pressure in the chest. People with Angina may feel like a heavy weight is lying on their chests. This heaviness and tightness in the chest.

Angina can be symptoms of many heart diseases including coronary artery disease, heart attack, etc. This usually happens due to the development of any plaque in the arteries, which leads to the insufficient oxygen-rich blood supply to the heart.

Angina can be categorized as:

  • Stable Angina: This type of Angina is very common, which triggers due to stress and physical activity. Generally, it lasts for a few minutes and goes away after rest. It is not a heart attack but can be a warning sign of future heart attack. This is why it is important to consult doctors in case of frequent mild chest pain.
  • Unstable Angina: This type of Angina can trigger at rest or active. The pain can be long-lasting and strong and occurs again and again. This is why it is called unstable Angina. This can be a signal that a person is about to have a heart attack, so better to consult a doctor as soon as possible.
  • Microvascular Angina: In this condition, people feel chest pain but there is no artery blockage. Rather, it occurs when the coronary arteries don’t work properly as they are supposed to do, which results in an insufficient supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. It lasts 10 minutes and is common in women.
  • Prinzmetal’s Angina: This type of Angina is usually rare and known as variant Angina. This can trigger when a person is sleeping or resting due to sudden tightening or narrowing of the heart arteries. This causes strong and severe pain. 

Some Interesting Facts About Angina

  • Angina is discomfort and pain in the chest when there is an insufficient supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart.
  • It is also known as Ischemic Chest Pain or Angina Pectoris.
  • It is a common condition that is hard to distinguish from other chest pains such as pain due to indigestion or heartburn. However, if one experiences pain without any obvious reason, he/she should consult the doctor immediately.
  • According to Medscape estimation, Approximately 9.8 million Americans experience Angina every year, with 500,000 new cases.
  • Though the problem is not life-threatening, it can be an indication of other serious conditions.
  • This problem can be treated easily by some prescribed instructions and lifestyle changes.

Causes of Angina


The common causes include:

  • It can occur due to any blockage or plaque development in the coronary arteries.
  • It can also trigger due to heart disease or when the oxygen-rich blood is not reached to the heart.
  • Reduced oxygen-rich blood supply to the heart muscles, which leads to difficulty in contraction and a person experiences chest pain.
  • Atherosclerosis (fat deposition in the arteries) can also trigger chest pain.
  • People having blood clots in their arteries can also experience Angina.

Some less common causes of Angina or chest pain are:

  • Pulmonary embolism, in which there is blockage in the artery of the lungs.
  • Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, thickened or enlarged heart.
  • Aortic stenosis, in which the valve of the heart gets narrowed.
  • Pericarditis, in which the sac of the heart becomes swollen
  • Aortic Dissection, in which the largest artery (aorta) gets torn or ruptured.

Apart from these causes, there are many risk factor that may trigger Angina including:

  • Older age
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Stress
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Using Harmful substances such as alcohol, tobacco, etc. 
  • Not getting enough exercise

Causes of Stable Angina

This type of angina can trigger when a person is exercising, climbing stairs, walking, etc. During any physical activity, the body requires more blood but due to blocked arteries, the flow slows down and causes pain and discomfort. Apart from physical activities, cold temperatures, emotional stress, heavy meals, and smoking can also narrow arteries and cause stable Angina.

Causes of Unstable Angina

When the fat or blood clot deposits in blood vessels, they get narrowed and the flow of blood to the arteries is decreased. This leads to less supply of blood to the heart and can trigger unstable Angina 

Causes of Prinzmetal’s Angina

This sudden spasm in a coronary artery making them narrow can cause Prinzmetal’s Angina. When the arteries get narrowed, the rate of blood flow to the heart is reduced, causing severe chest pain. Lifestyle factors and emotional stress that tighten blood vessels and may trigger Prinzmetal’s Angina.

Symptoms of Angina

The main symptom is Chest pain, however, the condition affects individuals differently. Some common symptoms are:

  • Burning
  • Aching
  • Discomfort
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Fullness in the chest
  • Pressure or heaviness in the chest
  • Upset stomach 
  • vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Squeezing
  • Sweating

Most of the symptoms are common and can be occured in many other problems. This is why people get confused between Angina and other problems.

Other symptoms include:

Pain behind the breastbone that further spreads to your arms, shoulders, jaw, throat, neck, or back.

It is advisable to seek professional help in case of any noticeable signs or symptoms.

Diagnosis of Angina


To diagnose Angina, doctors perform physical examination and check for causes, risk factors, family history, and symptoms. Some tests include:

  • EKG for measuring the electrical activity of the heart.
  • Stress test to check the working and functioning of the heart while exercising.
  • Blood test to determine whether there are excessive proteins present in the blood to damage the heart muscles or not.
  • Imaging tests including Chest X-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, and Echocardiogram are done to create heart images. 

Also, Cardiac catheterization and Coronary angiography can also be performed to diagnose this condition. 


Though Angina is not a life-threatening problem, it can be a signal for other diseases. This is why it is important to consult a doctor and get the best treatment as soon as possible.

FAQ About Angina

Angina causes chest pain or chest discomfort, a major sign of heart disease. Although, all chest pain is not angina. Other situations can also cause chest pain, such as:

  • A blockage in a lung artery
  • Aortic dissection
  • Lungs infection
  • A panic attack
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

All angina are not the same. There are different types of angina;

  • Stable Angina / Angina Pectoris
  • Unstable Angina
  • Variant (Prinzmetal) Angina
  • Microvascular Angina

Angina is an indication of an underlying heart problem. This normally occurs due to the blockage or narrowing of one or more coronary arteries.

Lifestyle changes that help in preventing or reducing angina include:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Healthy Diet Changes: Eat healthy foods including limited quantities of salt, sugar, saturated fat and trans fat. Avoid overeating. 
  • Physical Activity: Do physical activities.
  • Excess Weight: If you are overweight, try to lose extra weight and maintain a balance.

Stress: Avoiding taking stress.

Differentiating the pain of angina from a heart attack can be difficult as their symptoms are alike. 

Angina provokes chest pain that happens because the heart muscle is not getting sufficient blood. When the blood clot narrows or blocks the coronary arteries, a heart attack occurs. 

Symptoms of angina;

  • Pain, heaviness or tightness of the chest which may extend to the back, neck, shoulders or jaw.
  • Discomfort only in the jaw, neck, and arms without any chest ache.
  • The ache can differ from mild to severe.

Several people live a normal life with angina as they take proper medication and address the risk determinants. If someone takes proper therapy to conquer the symptoms then they can lead to a good life and can continue their regular day-to-day activities.


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