Skip to main content


Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 25, 2023.

What is angina?

Harvard Health Publishing

Angina is discomfort or pain in the chest that happens when not enough oxygen-rich blood reaches the muscle cells of the heart. The most common cause of angina is coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is usually caused by atherosclerosis. In this condition, fatty deposits (called plaque) build up along the inside walls of blood vessels that feed oxygen and nutrients to the pumping heart. 

Angina occurs when one or more of the coronary arteries become narrowed or blocked. The discomfort of angina can be mild at first and gradually get worse. Or it may come on suddenly.


Although angina most commonly affects males who are middle-aged or older, it can occur in both sexes and in all age groups. Angina also is called angina pectoris.

Symptoms of angina

Angina usually feels like a pressing, burning or squeezing pain in the chest. The main pain usually is under the breastbone. The pain may spread up toward the throat and into the jaw. The discomfort may be felt in the left arm and sometimes in both arms. People with angina often break out into a cold sweat. Other symptoms can include shortness of breath, lightheadedness and nausea.  


Doctors divide angina into two types: 

Diagnosing angina

Your doctor may suspect that you have angina based on your symptoms and your risk of coronary artery disease. The doctor will review your medical history to see if you smoke (or have smoked) and whether you have diabetes and high blood pressure. Your doctor will ask about your family's medical history and will review your cholesterol levels, including LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol.  

The doctor will check your blood pressure and pulse, and listen to your heart and lungs. You may need one or more diagnostic tests to determine if you have coronary artery disease. Possible tests include:  

Expected duration of angina

An angina attack usually lasts less than five minutes. Pain that lasts longer than that or is severe may signal a more significant decrease in the heart's blood supply. This can happen when someone is having a heart attack or unstable angina. 

Treatment options

The following list of medications are related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

Preventing angina

You can help to prevent angina caused by coronary artery disease by controlling your risk factors for clogged arteries:  

It's also wise to exercise regularly and to maintain an ideal weight. If angina attacks are triggered by emotional stress, learning stress management or relaxation techniques may be helpful. 

Treating angina

When angina is caused by coronary artery disease, treatment usually includes:

When lifestyle changes and drugs do not provide enough symptom relief, you and your doctor will consider additional testing, such as a cardiac catheterization. Depending on the site(s) and amount of coronary artery blockage, you may get much better symptom relief with balloon angioplasty and a stent, or possibly coronary artery bypass surgery.

When To Call a Professional

Call your doctor if you experience chest pains, even if you think you are too young to have angina and have no history of heart problems in your family. Your doctor will recommend the next steps based on how you describe your symptoms and risk factors. 


In people with coronary artery disease, the outlook depends upon many factors, including the location and severity of the artery narrowing, and the number of coronary arteries involved. Proper treatment greatly improves the outlook for people with coronary artery disease. 

Additional Info

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)


Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.