Angina Chest Pain – Symptoms & Risk Factors | MedStar Health

Learn about this warning sign of a heart attack

Angina, sometimes called angina pectoris, is a specific type of chest pain that happens when the heart isn’t getting enough blood flow.

There are two main types of angina. Stable angina is caused by the same sorts of activities, such as exercise; feels the same each time it happens; and can be treated with rest or medication. Unstable angina can happen without a specific trigger; may feel different or worse with new activities or at rest; and last longer. Stable angina can progress to unstable angina.

Angina can be a warning sign of a heart attack. If you have new angina, or if your chest pain is worse than it has been in the past, call 911 immediately.

Our cardiology team uses the most sophisticated diagnostic equipment and advanced treatments to get heart patients rapid interventions in the case of a heart attack.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom of angina is chest pain. You may feel a fullness, burning, crushing, or tightness in the chest. It may be mistaken for heartburn or indigestion in some cases.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Pain in the upper body, including arms, back, neck, jaw, or shoulder
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating

How symptoms may differ in women

Women may experience angina symptoms that are different than those men experience. Additional symptoms of angina in women may include:

  • Burning feeling in the chest or upper abdomen
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Pain radiating from the chest to the arm or jaw
  • Stabbing chest pain

What are the risk factors?

Several factors can decrease the flow of blood to the heart and increase the risk for angina, including:


Angiogram (Angiography)

An angiogram is a special X-ray taken as a special dye is injected through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter to detect blockages or aneurysms in blood vessels.

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.


An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.

Fractional Flow Reserve

Fractional flow reserve, also known as FFR, is a measurement of how well blood can flow through the coronary arteries. Narrowing or blockages in these arteries can lead to a heart attack without treatment.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets, and computer technology to create images of your heart and blood vessels.

Stress Tests

Stress tests are used to assess how your heart works during physical activity. There are several types of stress tests, including treadmill or bike stress tests, nuclear stress tests, stress echocardiograms, and chemically induced stress tests.


Mild angina may be treated with lifestyle changes – such as quitting smoking, losing weight, and avoiding excessive stress – or more advanced treatments.


Angioplasty improves blood flow through the arteries by clearing plaque buildup.


Thrombolysis, also known as thrombolytic therapy, is a treatment to dissolve or break up dangerous blood clots that can cause heart attacks, strokes, and other conditions.

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