Angina (Chest Pain)

What is Angina (Chest Pain)? - Virtua Medical Services

Living with Angina

When chest discomfort or pain (angina) leaves you breathless, it can be hard to keep up with your everyday activities. Our heart doctors (cardiologists) will find the best ways to treat your chest pain so you can breathe easy.

Talk to your doctor right away about your chest pain because it’s often a sign of a more serious heart problem, such as coronary artery disease (CAD). 


If you have ongoing or severe chest pain, go to the emergency room or call 911.


What is angina?

Angina is chest discomfort that happens when your heart doesn’t get enough oxygen. If you feel tightness or squeezing in your chest, then you may have angina.

Angina can be a sign of more serious heart problems like coronary artery disease (CAD) or coronary microvascular disease.

CAD is caused by plaque buildup along your artery walls (blood vessels). This narrows your arteries, restricting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart.

Coronary microvascular disease is caused by damage or disease in the heart’s smallest arteries.

What are angina symptoms?

People feel angina differently. It can feel like a sharp stab, a dull ache or a crushing sensation. Other symptoms include:

  • Chest tightness during exercise
  • Upper back, shoulder or arm discomfort
  • Increased fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Nausea

Who is at risk for angina?

If you’re at risk for heart disease, you’re also at risk for angina. Talk to your doctor about your family history. Other risk factors are:

How can you prevent angina? 

Heart health begins with a healthy lifestyle. Here’s how you can prevent angina and more serious heart problems:

How is angina diagnosed?

Your doctor will review your family history with you. He or she may have you take a test called an electrocardiogram (ECG). ECGs are painless and are often done in your doctor’s office. You’ll lie down and a nurse will place sticky patches on your chest, which connect to wires that lead to a monitor. This monitor follows your heart’s electrical activity for 5 to 10 minutes.

Your doctor may also recommend a stress test (also called an exercise electrocardiogram or stress ECG). A stress test measures the effect of exercise on your heart. Much like the ECG, a monitor tracks your heart’s electrical activity while you walk on a treadmill or ride a bike. Your doctor may recommend stress testing with imaging such as an echocardiogram or nuclear medicine scan. For patients who can’t exercise, the doctor may order a pharmacologic stress test, which uses medication to simulate the effects of exercise on the heart.

In some cases, your doctor may suggest that you have a heart catheter (cardiac catheterization) to see if you have disease in your heart or blood vessels. During this procedure, your doctor inserts a small tube into the blood vessels that lead to your heart to measure pressure and blood flow.

How is angina treated?

Your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan that’s best for you.

Angina is often treated with:

  • Medication
  • Angioplasty: a surgery that opens blocked arteries. Your doctor inserts a thin tube into your heart and uses a small balloon to push plaque or other blockages to the sides of the artery wall. The balloon allows more blood to flow through your arteries.
  • Stent: during an angioplasty, your doctor may decide to use a stent (a small mesh tube) to reinforce your artery or help keep it open.
  • Bypass surgery: a surgery in which blood vessels from another part of your body are used to go around a blocked artery in your heart. This new connection bypasses the blocked arteries to reroute blood flow. Virtua cardiologists work collaboratively with regional surgical partners to coordinate this type of surgery.

Depending on your care plan, your doctor may recommend a cardiopulmonary rehab program to help you keep your heart healthy over time.

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