What Is Stable Angina?
Angina is a type of chest pain that results from reduced blood
flow to the heart. A lack of blood flow means your heart isn’t getting enough
oxygen. The pain is often triggered by physical activity or emotional stress.
Stable angina, also called angina pectoris, is the most common type
of angina. Stable angina is a predictable pattern of chest pain. You can
usually track the pattern based on what you’re doing when you feel the pain in
your chest. Tracking stable angina can help you manage your symptoms more
Unstable angina is another form of angina. It occurs suddenly and
gets worse over time. It may eventually lead to a heart attack.
Though stable angina is less serious than unstable angina, it can
be painful and uncomfortable. Both types of angina are usually signs of an
underlying heart condition, so it’s important to see your doctor as soon as you
What Causes Stable Angina?
Stable angina occurs when the heart doesn’t get the oxygen it
needs to function properly. Your heart works harder when you exercise or experience
Certain factors, such as narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis),
can prevent your heart from receiving more oxygen. Your arteries can become
narrow and hard when plaque (a substance made of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and
other substances) builds up inside the artery walls. Blood clots can also block
your arteries and reduce the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart.
What Are the Risk Factors for Stable Angina?
Risk factors for stable angina include:
- being overweight
- having a history of heart disease
- having high cholesterol or high blood pressure
- having diabetes
- not exercising
Large meals, vigorous physical workouts, and extremely hot or
cold weather can also trigger stable angina in some cases.
What Are the Symptoms of Stable Angina?
The painful sensation that occurs during an episode of stable
angina is often described as pressure or fullness in the center of the chest.
The pain can feel like a vice squeezing your chest or like a heavy weight resting
on your chest. This pain may spread from your chest to your neck, arms, and
During an episode of stable angina, you may also experience:
- shortness of breath
- profuse sweating
Stable angina usually happens after you’ve exerted yourself
physically. The symptoms tend to be temporary, lasting up to 15 minutes in most
cases. This is different from unstable angina, in which the pain can be continuous
and more severe.
You can have an episode of stable angina at any time of day.
However, you’re more likely to experience symptoms in the morning.
How Is Stable Angina Diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask you about your medical history and run tests
to diagnose stable angina. Tests may include:
measures the electrical activity in your heart and evaluates your heart rhythm
a type of X-ray that allows your doctor to see your blood vessels and measure
blood flow to your heart
These tests can determine if your heart is functioning properly
and if any arteries are blocked.
You may also need to take a stress test. During a stress test, your doctor will monitor your
heart rhythm and breathing while you exercise. This type of test can determine
if physical activity triggers your symptoms.
In some cases, your doctor might run blood tests to measure your
cholesterol and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. High levels of CRP can
increase your risk of developing heart disease.
How Is Stable Angina Treated?
Treatment for stable angina includes lifestyle changes, medication,
and surgery. You can usually predict when the pain will occur, so reducing physical
exertion can help manage your chest pain. Discuss your exercise routine and diet
with your doctor to determine how you can adjust your lifestyle safely.
Certain lifestyle adjustments can help prevent future episodes of
stable angina. These changes may include exercising regularly and eating a
healthy diet of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. You should also quit
smoking if you’re a smoker.
These habits can also reduce your risk of developing chronic
(long-term) diseases, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood
pressure. These conditions can affect stable angina and may eventually lead to heart
A medication called nitroglycerin
effectively relieves pain associated with stable angina. Your doctor will tell
you how much nitroglycerin to take when you have an episode of angina.
You might need to take other medications to manage underlying
conditions that contribute to stable angina, such as high blood pressure, high
cholesterol, or diabetes. Tell your doctor if you have any of these conditions.
Your doctor may prescribe certain medications that can help stabilize your
blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels. This will lower your risk of
experiencing more episodes of angina.
Your doctor may also prescribe you blood-thinning medication to prevent
blood clots, a contributing factor in stable angina.
Blocked arteries may need to be surgically repaired to prevent chest
pain. Angioplasty is often used
to treat stable angina. During this procedure, a surgeon places a small balloon
inside your artery. The balloon is inflated to widen the artery, and then a stent (tiny wire mesh coil) is
inserted. The stent is permanently placed in your artery to keep the passageway
What Is the Long-Term Outlook for People with
The outlook for people with stable angina is generally good. The
condition often improves with medication. Making certain lifestyle changes can
also keep your symptoms from getting worse. This includes:
- maintaining a healthy weight
- exercising regularly
- avoiding smoking
- eating a balanced diet
You may continue to struggle with chest pain if you’re unable to
transition to a healthier lifestyle. You also might be at an increased risk for
other types of heart disease. Possible complications of stable angina include heart
attack, sudden death caused by abnormal heart rhythms, and unstable angina. These
complications can develop if stable angina is left untreated.
It’s important to call your doctor as soon as you experience
signs of stable angina.