Angina Patient Information Fact Sheet

What is angina?
Angina is a heart condition that causes temporary pain or an uncomfortable feeling in the chest. It often occurs during exercise but can also be triggered by anxiety, stress, eating a large meal, or by cold or windy weather. An angina attack usually lasts from 1 to 10 minutes and may be relieved by resting. Angina is more common in men than in women and incidence increases with age. Angina is the most common form of coronary heart disease and is thought to affect around 17 million people in the US overall. Angina is more common in people from the Indian subcontinent and in people with diabetes.

What causes angina?
Angina is caused by an imbalance between the amount of oxygen supplied to the heart and the amount needed. There are four types of angina: stable angina, unstable angina, variant (Prinzmetal’s) angina, and microvascular angina. In all types of angina the pain is caused by the heart muscle becoming short of oxygen. This may be the result of narrowed arteries (as in stable angina), or as a result of a coronary artery spasm (as may occur in unstable angina or variant angina). Narrowing of the arteries also occurs in unstable angina and often in variant angina.Microvascular angina is caused by spasms within the walls of small arterial blood vessels causing reduced blood flow to the heart muscle.

Narrowing of the arteries is caused by atherosclerosis, which is the gradual buildup of fatty deposits, such as cholesterol, within the arteries. This buildup tends to happen with age and there are many risk factors that can increase the likelihood of this occurring, including smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and being overweight. Some people develop angina without having any of these risk factors. If you have a close family member who has had angina or a heart attack at an early age, you may also be at increased risk.