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What is angina?

Angina is the term for chest pain or chest discomfort. Angina occurs when the heart muscle is not getting enough blood and therefore enough oxygen to work properly. It is usually caused by hardening of the arteries.

Angina can be classified as either stable or unstable:

  • Stable angina follows a regular pattern. Physical activity or emotional stress can often trigger angina pain. Stable angina can usually be controlled with medication or by stopping the activity.
  • Unstable angina is less predictable. Unstable angina pain can happen any time, even when someone is asleep.

Angina is a warning sign that the heart is under stress. It is extremely hard to tell the difference between angina and a heart attack, so you should act quickly if you or someone you know has chest pain or tightness:

  • If your doctor is not treating you for angina, call 911 or your local emergency number as quickly as possible if you have chest pain and/or tightness, with or without pain that radiates into your arms or jaw.
  • If you are already being treated for angina, take your medication as prescribed by your doctor and don't hesitate to call 911 or your local emergency number if the medication doesn't quickly relieve your symptoms.

Prevention

You can prevent angina the same way you can prevent a heart attack. See “How can I reduce my risk of developing heart disease and having a heart attack?” to learn more.

Additional resources

Prepared by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and modified by Alberta Health Services. This FAQ appeared originally on the Canadian Health Network Web site.