Your Care Explained > Conditions and Diagnoses : Angina

Angina is recurring chest pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart muscle does not receive an adequate amount of blood and oxygen to support the body’s activities. But it isn’t as reliable a sign of coronary artery disease in women as in men.

Not only is chest pain often due to other conditions in women, heart disease is likely to be signaled by other symptoms, such as fatigue, depression and flu-like discomfort.

The bottom line: don’t wait for angina to seek medical attention, but get to the doctor if you have angina symptoms.

Symptoms of Angina

Symptoms commonly include a pressing, squeezing or crushing pain, usually in the chest under the breastbone, but occasionally in the upper back, arms, neck or earlobes; pain radiating in the arms, shoulders, jaw, neck and/or back; shortness of breath; and weakness and/or fatigue.

If you think you have angina, it’s important to see a doctor to determine whether your symptoms are caused by coronary heart disease or may be due to pleurisy, costochronditis (inflammation of the area where the ribs join the breastbone) or other conditions.

Diagnosing Angina

Because your doctor can often diagnose angina by the type of symptoms and when they occur, he or she will take a complete medical history and physical examination. You may be given an electrocardiogram (ECG) test to check the electrical activity of your heart, and/or a stress test, in which your heart is monitored while you walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike.

If these tests indicate coronary artery disease, you may be asked to undergo a coronary angiogram, in which x-rays are taken after a contrast agent is injected into an artery to locate the narrowing or obstructions in your coronary arteries. If you have an angiogram, you may be given an intravascular ultrasound (IVUS) test during the procedure. IVUS is used to detect disease in the smaller vessels that feed into the coronary arteries.

Treating Angina

If you don’t have a major obstruction in a coronary artery, your doctor will probably suggest only lifestyle changes and medication. In any case, it makes sense to try to eliminate or at least reduce the factors that contribute to coronary artery disease, including high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, high blood cholesterol levels, high saturated fat diet, lack of exercise and excess weight.

Your doctor might prescribe drugs to lower your cholesterol level, antihypertensive medication or other medications to relieve the pain by relaxing the coronary arteries so that blood can flow through them more easily.

If angiography identifies a coronary artery blockage, you may require hospitalization and procedures such as angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery. In angioplasty, a small balloon is inflated inside the artery to compress the obstruction against the vessel walls. In bypass surgery, a vessel graft is routed around the blockage, allowing the unobstructed flow of blood to the heart muscle.

Nutrition and Prevention

Reference these links for information on how to prevent heart disease and how to live a healthy lifestyle.

Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011

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