Angina, or angina pectoris, is another name for heart pain. Angina occurs when an area of your heart muscle does not get enough blood and therefore does not get enough of the oxygen and nutrients that the blood carries. Angina is a warning signal that your body needs to slow down so your heart can get the oxygen it needs.

What activities cause angina?
Episodes of angina are usually brought on by activities or conditions that cause your heart to beat faster and work harder, such as physical exertion, mental or emotional stress, smoking, large meals or extreme temperatures. Angina usually lasts for a few minutes, but it can last up to a few hours.

How often does angina occur?
Most people who experience angina will gradually see a pattern form of their episodes of angina. For example, they will be able to predict the approximate frequency of their episodes and recognize the level of exercise or stress they can undergo before the angina begins. When angina occurs like this in a predictable pattern, it is called stable angina

While most people have stable angina, others may experience a severe or prolonged angina episode or a sudden change to their angina pattern. This is called unstable angina. If you have angina, you should monitor your patterns of angina episodes. If you notice that your angina episodes become more frequent, last longer or occur without exertion, you should consult your physician immediately.

What is the difference between angina and a heart attack?
Angina may sometimes be confused with a heart attack, but there are several differences between the two conditions. For example:

  • Angina is only a temporary reduction of the flow of the blood to the heart; a heart attack is a sudden, permanent stopping of the flow of blood to the heart.
  • Heart attack chest pain is more severe and lasts longer than chest pain caused by angina.
  • Angina pain will go away with rest or medication; heart attack pain does not.
  • Both angina and a heart attack can be accompanied by indigestion, sweating or nausea, however, heart attack symptoms are typically milder.
  • Angina does not cause permanent damage to the heart muscle; a heart attack causes permanent damage.