Heart Disease Home > Types of Angina

The three angina types include stable, unstable, and variant. The most common types are stable angina and unstable angina. Stable angina generally occurs with physical exertion, but can be improved after rest. Unstable angina is a dangerous condition requiring emergency treatment, and is often a sign that a heart attack could occur soon. Variant angina is a rare form that is caused by a spasm in a coronary artery.

Types of Angina: An Overview

Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when your heart muscle does not get enough blood for a short period of time. Angina may feel like pressure or a squeezing pain in your chest. The pain may also occur in your:
  • Shoulders
  • Arms
  • Neck
  • Jaw
  • Back.
More than 6 million people in the United States have angina. Most people with angina have coronary artery disease, with narrowed arteries due to atherosclerosis. When arteries are narrowed, blood flow to the heart is reduced.

Angina Types Explained

There are three types of angina: stable angina, unstable angina, and variant angina, also known as Prinzmetal's angina. Stable angina and unstable angina are the most common. Variant angina is less common.
Stable Angina
Stable angina can also be referred to as exertional angina. In stable angina, a coronary artery has been severely narrowed due to the buildup of plaque. Severely narrowed arteries may allow enough blood to reach the heart when the demand for oxygen is low, such as when you are sitting. With exertion, however, like walking up a hill or climbing stairs, the heart works harder and needs more oxygen, which it cannot get. Therefore, a person develops symptoms of angina. With rest, the angina attack symptoms improve.
Unstable Angina
Unstable angina is the second most common type. It is a dangerous condition that requires emergency treatment. Unstable angina occurs more often in older adults and is a sign that a heart attack could occur soon. In fact, 10 to 20 percent of people with unstable angina symptoms will have a heart attack. Unlike stable angina, unstable angina can occur without physical exertion and is not relieved by rest or medicine. In most cases, the condition is caused by blood clots that partially or totally block a coronary artery.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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