Overview of Angina

Angina, also called angina pectoris, is a symptom of ischemic heart disease (IHD). Chest pain, pressure, and discomfort—commonly known as angina—result when the coronary arteries do not deliver an adequate amount of oxygen-rich blood to the heart (called ischemia).

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Types of Angina

Angina is classified broadly as stable or unstable, depending on its pattern of occurrence and severity. Stable angina occurs when increased physical activity (e.g., hurrying across a street or climbing a long flight of stairs) creates a greater demand for oxygen-rich blood to reach heart tissue.

Unstable angina occurs with lesser degrees of exertion or while at rest. This type increases in frequency and duration and worsens in severity. Unstable angina is an acute coronary syndrome (ACS) that requires immediate medical attention.

Unstable angina that occurs at rest is the most serious form. This type usually is caused by the formation of a blood clot at the site of a ruptured plaque in a coronary artery. If left untreated, it can result in heart attack and irreversible damage to the heart.

Variant (or Prinzmetal's) angina—an uncommon form of unstable angina—is characterized by recurring prolonged attacks of severe ischemia that usually occur at rest.

Incidence and Prevalence of Angina

The American Heart Association reports that almost 9 million people in the United States experience angina. The condition affects women more often than men. Each year, coronary artery disease causes approximately 600,000 deaths in the United States, and the annual costs associated with the disease exceed $100 billion. Over 1 million heart attacks occur in the United States every year.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 02 Jul 2000

Last Modified: 13 Feb 2012