What Is Angina Pectoris?


Angina pectoris is a medical condition that causes chest pain due to a lack of sufficient blood supply to the heart. It is a common symptom of coronary artery disease. Nearly 10 million Americans experience angina annually.

Angina pectoris is also known as stable angina. It usually follows a predictable pattern, depending on what an individual is doing (exercising, doing stressful tasks, etc.). This makes it easier to track and treat when an episode occurs.


Symptoms of angina pectoris include chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, nausea, fatigue, and anxiety. Pain may also occur in the upper back, shoulders, arms or neck. The pain typically lasts for less than 15 minutes and may be relieved by rest or taking nitroglycerin.


The diagnostic process typically begins with a thorough medical history. Certain tests may also be performed:

  • An electrocardiogram assesses heart rhythm and electrical activity in the heart.
  • An angiography is a type of X-ray that provides a clear view of blood vessels, which allows a physician to assess the blood flow to the heart.
  • A stress test is performed while exercising. During the test, a physician assesses heart rhythm and breathing.
  • Blood tests may be ordered to check cholesterol levels and C-reactive protein levels.

Triggers and risk factors

Triggers for an episode of angina pectoris include anything that requires more blood supply to the heart muscle, such as physical exertion, large meals, emotional stress, or exposure to extreme hot or cold temperatures. The risk of experiencing angina pectoris increases with obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, or a sedentary lifestyle.


Several treatment options are available for angina pectoris:

  • Lifestyle changes — Exercise, a healthy diet, and quitting the habit of smoking can reduce episodes of angina pectoris. If exercise induces an individual’s episodes of angina pectoris, it is important to consult a physician about what lifestyle changes can be made safely.
  • Medication — Nitroglycerin is typically prescribed to reduce pain during an episode of angina pectoris. Depending on any underlying conditions that contribute to angina pectoris episodes, individuals may also be prescribed blood thinners, high blood pressure medication, cholesterol medication or diabetes medication.
  • Surgery — Angioplasty is a minimally invasive medical procedure that involves a surgeon inserting a permanent stent inside an artery in order to widen it. A coronary artery bypass graft may be necessary if underlying coronary heart disease is involved.


Complications of untreated angina pectoris include heart attack, sudden death due to abnormal heart rhythms, and unstable angina, which is angina that occurs at rest as well as with exertion and worsens in frequency and severity.

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