If you’ve ever experienced tightness in your chest that feels like squeezing, burning, or suffocating, it could be angina.

Angina occurs when one or more coronary arteries fails to deliver enough blood to a part of the heart that needs oxygen, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Causes and Risk Factors of Angina

Angina attacks are generally triggered during periods when your heart requires more oxygen-rich blood, like during exercise. Other causes of angina could be emotional stress, alcohol, eating heavy meals, smoking, air pollution, and extreme hot or cold temperature, according to the AHA.

Though the pain often goes away with rest, an angina episode is usually the symptom of a more serious underlying heart condition, such as coronary heart disease or coronary microvascular disease (MVD).

Angina can also be caused by the narrowing of the aortic valve in the heart, which is a condition called aortic stenosis.

Anyone who’s at risk for heart disease or coronary microvascular disease is at risk for angina. Per the Mayo Clinic, other risk factors for the condition include:
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Older age
  • Stress
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Lack of physical activity

Duration of Angina

An episode of stable angina typically lasts no more than a couple of minutes and goes away with rest or medication. Unstable angina lasts longer than stable angina, perhaps 30 minutes or more.
Episodes of variant angina tend to last 5 to 15 minutes, though can be longer, notes the AHA.
Microvascular angina usually lasts longer than 10 minutes and can last up to 30 minutes or longer, per the AHA.

Complications of Angina

Angina can make some day-to-day activities, such as walking, difficult or uncomfortable.

The most dangerous complication of angina is a heart attack. Common warning signs of a heart attack include:

  • Pain in the center of the chest that can feel like pressure, fullness, or squeezing that lasts more than a few minutes
  • Pain moving from the chest to shoulders, arms, back, or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Feeling faint
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical help immediately.

Unstable angina may also lead to:

  • Arrhythmias This includes heartbeats that are too fast, too slow, or irregular.
  • Cardiomyopathy In this rare condition, the heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick, or rigid. This can lead to a weakening of the heart muscle, making it more difficult to pump blood to the rest of the body.
  • Sudden Cardiac Arrest, This is a very serious condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating, causing blood to stop flowing to the brain and other organs.

Black Americans and Angina

As with other heart conditions, Black Americans are disproportionately affected by angina.

A study published in the AHA journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes found that rates of angina have decreased in recent decades for white Americans but not for Black Americans. The percentage of white adults age 40 and older reporting angina dropped by about one-third from 2001 to 2012. For Black Americans, the rates remained essentially unchanged during that time.
Black Americans are also more affected by heart disease. The CDC reports that Black Americans aged 18 to 49 are two times more likely to die of heart disease than white Americans.

Resources We Love

Favorite Orgs for Essential Info About Angina

American Heart Association (AHA)

The AHA is the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and improving the lives of patients with heart issues. The AHA funds life-saving research, advocates for people affected by all heart-related problems, and provides education for people with heart issues, including angina.

American College of Cardiology (ACC)

The ACC is a nonprofit medical association made up of cardiovascular specialists. The ACC partners with the AHA to develop clinical practice guidelines for cardiologists. The ACC also holds annual meetings that focus on the latest research and innovation around heart health.

Favorite Online Support Networks


Women experience angina differently than men. This organization helps women who are dealing with heart-related health issues like angina connect with one another. The website offers an interactive map of the United States that you can scroll over to see if there are local support networks in your community. WomenHeart also offers one-on-one support by text, phone, or email, virtual live meetings, and an online community.

Support Network

AHA’s support network offers the chance to connect with others on a number of heart-related topics, including general heart health, caregiving, and rehab and recovery. Share your story and engage with others who have shared theirs.

Favorite Apps for Angina

My Therapy

My Therapy generates reminders to take your angina medication and has a built-in health diary to help you monitor symptoms, triggers, and medication side effects. You can also record your blood pressure and cholesterol readings and set daily health goals. My Therapy is free on Android and iOS.

Angina Control

This easy-to-use app allows patients to log their angina symptoms and fill in conditions associated with their onset (like if it occurred during exertion or at rest) and whether or not medication was needed to alleviate pain. The app then produces weekly, monthly, or yearly reports tracking your angina attacks over time, as well as medication consumption, that you can share with your doctor.

Favorite Resource for a Heart-Healthy Diet


The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers advice and actionable cooking tips on how to make changes to your diet to make it more heart-healthy.

Favorite Resource for Becoming an Advocate

Go Red for Women

The AHA’s signature women’s initiative is designed to increase awareness around women’s heart health. Participate in the annual National Wear Red Day every February and start conversations about women’s heart health with the people you love in your life.

Additional reporting by Nicol Natale.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • Angina. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
  • Angina Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. June 12, 2020.
  • Microvascular Angina. American Heart Association. July 31, 2015.
  • Angina in Women Can Be Different Than in Men. American Heart Association. July 31, 2015.
  • Angina Pectoris (Stable Angina). American Heart Association. July 31, 2015.
  • Heart-Health Screenings. American Heart Association. March 22, 2019.
  • Prinzmetal’s Variant Angina. National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. January 8, 2018.
  • Cardiac Medications. American Heart Association. January 15, 2020.
  • Cardiac Procedures and Surgeries. American Heart Association. October 5, 2020.
  • American Heart Association Recommendation for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids. American Heart Association. April 18, 2018.
  • Cardiovascular Disease: Prevention and Reversal. Cleveland Clinic. December 20, 2018.
  • Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. February 2017.
  • Diabetes Mellitus: Screening and Diagnosis. American Family Physician. January 15, 2016.
  • Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2020 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation. January 29, 2020.
  • Prevalence of Angina in Women Versus Men. Circulation. March 17, 2008.
  • National Trends in the Prevalence and Medical History of Angina: 1988 to 2012. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. May 1, 2015.
  • African American Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 3, 2017.
  • Heartburn or Heart Attack? American Heart Association. April 26, 2018.


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