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Angina is pain or discomfort in the chest that lasts between 2-10 minutes. This discomfort can also be felt in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaws or back. Rest or nitroglycerin typically relieves the pain. 

Types of angina include:

  • Unstable angina — A more unpredictable and/or severe pattern, where chest pain may occur while resting or even sleeping (nocturnal angina), which may be a sign that you're about to have a heart attack
  • Stable angina — A predictable pattern that you can expect and know how to treat beforehand
  • Variant or Prinzmetal's angina — A severe, temporary contraction of coronary arteries that occurs when you're at rest

Causes of Angina

Angina is usually a sign of coronary artery disease (CAD). It occurs when the blood vessels that lead to your heart are narrowed or blocked and decrease the blood and oxygen flow to your heart. When your heart is deprived of oxygen, you will feel chest pain and other symptoms.

Other causes of angina include:

  • Exercise or exertion
  • Cold weather
  • A large meal
  • Emotional stress

Are You at Risk?

Major risk factors for CAD include the following:

  • Male gender
  • Increased age
  • Strong family history of heart disease
  • Obesity 
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Excessive alcohol intake

Symptoms of Angina

The most common symptom is pressure or squeezing chest pain. Elderly people, women, and diabetics are more likely to have atypical or subtle symptoms.

You're more likely to have a heart attack if you experience severe chest discomfort that lasts more than 15 minutes and is accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

  • Pain in the shoulder(s) or arm(s) or into the jaw(s)
  • Weakness
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath

Diagnosis & Treatment at UVA

At UVA, we can diagnose you by using these tests:

  • Blood tests
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • Echocardiogram
  • Exercise stress test
  • Nuclear scanning
  • Electron-beam CT scan (coronary calcium scan, heart scan, CT angiography)
  • Coronary angiography

We offer the following treatments for angina. 


Your doctor may prescribe certain medication to decrease your risk of heart attack, lower your blood pressure or prevent the progression of CAD.


Patients with severe angina or unstable, progressing angina may benefit from:


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.