If you have angina, you’re not alone, as approximately 9 million people in the U.S. have angina.1 How it feels, however, can vary a lot from one person to the next.
Angina can be a frightening experience, especially the first time you experience it. The symptoms of stable and unstable angina are very similar and can include any of the following:
- Pain, pressure, or a tightness in the chest, arms, neck, jaw, throat, shoulders, or back
- Difficulty breathing or trouble catching your breath (especially common for people with diabetes)
- Cold sweats
Stable vs. unstable angina
Although stable and unstable angina have similar symptoms, they differ in terms of severity and when the symptoms occur:
- Stable angina – Symptoms usually start when you exert yourself or feel stressed, and this pattern of discomfort has been present for more than four weeks. The pain or discomfort usually stops if you stop what you’re doing. Activity—such as exercise, eating a big meal, exerting yourself in cold temperatures, or having an argument—increases your heart rate and blood pressure, so your heart works harder and needs more oxygen. If your heart is not getting enough oxygen, it can cause the pain and discomfort of angina. When your pattern of angina has been stable for several months, it may be referred to as chronic stable angina. And if your usual pattern of chest discomfort changes over a short period of time—for example, if your chest discomfort comes on with less activity than normal or is occurring more frequently—then your angina has become unstable.
- Unstable angina – Symptoms occur for the first time or have happened for less than two weeks. Also, if you’ve had a change in your usual pattern of stable angina that occurs with exertion, it now becomes unstable angina. Unstable angina can happen anytime, even when you’re resting or watching TV. It’s hard to ignore; if the symptoms stop, they usually return soon. An abrupt change in your pattern of angina, such as more frequent or severe episodes, angina occurring with less activity, or taking longer to go away, should all be regarded as unstable angina.
*The term “women” in the context of “women’s cardiovascular health” applies to individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB) who have a female biological reproductive system, which includes a vagina, uterus, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, accessory glands, and external genital organs.
*The term “men” in the context of “cardiovascular health” applies to individuals assigned male at birth (AMAB) who have a male biological reproductive system, which includes a penis, scrotum, testes, epididymis, vas deferens, prostate, and seminal vesicles.