What Is Angina?

Angina is a warning sign that your heart muscle isn't getting enough oxygen-rich blood and is at risk for damage. Medicines, certain medical procedures, and lifestyle changes can help control angina. Talk with your healthcare provider about how to prevent angina and what to do if you get it.

Man holding hand to chest and looking distressed.

How does angina feel?

Angina is most often described as chest pain, but this can be misleading. Angina isn't always painful, and it isn’t always felt in the chest. Angina might feel like:

  • Discomfort, an aching, sharp, dull, or burning sensation, tightness or squeezing, or pressure that comes and goes. You may feel it in your chest, back, belly (abdomen), arm, shoulder, neck, or jaw.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Severe tiredness (fatigue) that gets worse, or feeling more tired than normal for no clear reason

  • Shortness of breath while doing something that used to be easy

  • Heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach (nausea), rapid heart rate, or sweating

  • Feeling lightheaded or fainting

Call 911

Call 911 right away if any of your symptoms:

  • Last more than a few minutes

  • Go away and come back

  • Happen at rest and don't go away after taking nitroglycerin as prescribed by your healthcare provider

  • Keep getting worse

You could be having a heart attack (acute myocardial infarction). Don't drive to the hospital yourself or have someone else drive you. Call 911 for an ambulance to transport you. The emergency medical technicians can start treating you right away.

When does angina happen?

  • Angina usually happens during activity. It can also occur when you have emotional stress or after a large meal. Sometimes angina can happen when the weather is too hot or too cold. All of these things can put more stress on your body and your heart.

  • You may have unstable angina if angina:

    • Starts occurring more often

    • Lasts longer

    • Happens even when you're resting, sleeping, or doing little physical activity

    • Causes more discomfort

    It’s a sign that your heart problem may be getting worse. You need to call your healthcare provider right away.

Online Medical Reviewer: Robyn Zercher FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2024
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.