What Is the Difference Between Stable and Unstable Angina?

doctor with stethoscope
Written by: Jennifer

Both stable and unstable angina consist of chest pain that occurs because of a lack of blood flow to the heart. However, some key differences exist between the two types of angina. 

Understanding the difference between stable and unstable angina is essential for getting the proper treatment. Here, we’ll take a closer look at both types of angina and what distinguishes them from each other.

What Is Stable Angina?

Angina is a condition in which the heart does not receive enough blood and oxygen. It usually occurs during physical activity or emotional stress. Angina can be stable (occurring with predictable triggers) or unstable (occurring without warning). Stable angina is the most common type of angina.

There are several types of stable angina, each with its own set of causes and risk factors. The most common type is exercise-induced angina, which happens when the heart doesn’t get enough blood during physical activity. Emotional stress-induced angina occurs when the heart doesn’t get enough blood during periods of emotional stress. Variant angina is a less common type that happens when the heart’s arteries are constricted by spasms.

The main symptom of all types of angina is chest pain or discomfort. The pain may feel like squeezing, pressure, heaviness, or an ache. It usually lasts for a few minutes and goes away with rest or nitroglycerin.

What Is Unstable Angina?

Unstable angina results from an abrupt, short-term reduction in blood flow to your heart muscle. Plaque accumulation within the coronary arteries (the main blood vessels that supply your heart) and narrowing of those vessels (known as stenosis) cause this. A spasm of the coronary arteries can also cause insufficient circulation and lead to unstable angina.

Unstable angina raises the danger of a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to part of your heart muscle is entirely shut off. If the blockage isn’t relieved immediately, the portion of your heart muscle supplied by that artery will die.

What Are the Symptoms of Unstable Angina?

The main symptom of unstable angina is chest pain or discomfort that:

  • Occurs when you’re resting or doing very little activity
  • Is new or different from your usual angina symptoms
  • Is more severe or lasts longer than usual angina episodes
  • Gets worse with activity or emotional stress
  • Wakes you up from sleep

What Is the Difference Between Stable and Unstable Angina?

Stable angina is more common than unstable angina. It happens when the heart is working harder than usual, such as during exercise. The pain usually goes away with rest or medicine.

Unstable angina is a more severe form of the condition. It can manifest without physical exercise and grow worse with time. This variant of angina represents an alteration in your angina’s usual pattern. Unstable angina may indicate that you’re going to have a heart attack.

The most common symptom of stable and unstable angina is chest pain or discomfort. But there are important differences between unstable and stable angina:

Stable angina:

  • Usually happens during physical activity or emotion
  • Goes away with rest or medicine
  • Is predictable

Unstable angina:

  • Happens at rest or with little activity
  • Gets worse over time
  • Is less predictable

Your doctor may do tests to diagnose stable or unstable angina. These tests may include a stress test, EKG, coronary angiography, and cardiac MRI.

How Can You Manage Angina?

There are several ways to manage angina, including lifestyle changes, medication, and flow therapy.

  1. Lifestyle Changes: One of the best ways to manage angina is to make lifestyle changes. These changes can include quitting smoking, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and managing stress. Exercise will help to improve your overall cardiovascular fitness and reduce your risk of heart disease. Managing stress can also help reduce your risk of developing angina.
  2. Medication: Several medications can be used to manage angina. These include beta-blockers, nitrates, calcium channel blockers, and antiplatelet drugs. Beta-blockers work by slowing down your heart rate and reducing the amount of blood your heart pumps. Nitrates widen your blood vessels and improve blood flow. Calcium channel blockers can prevent spasms in arteries. Antiplatelet drugs help to keep your blood from clotting.
  3. Flow Therapy: Flow therapy can help patients manage symptoms associated with angina — it is a natural, non-invasive treatment option that mimics passive exercise.

Getting Started with Flow Therapy

Flow therapy is a clinically proven non-invasive treatment for chronic heart conditions such as angina. It utilizes synchronized compression to mimic exercise, which increases oxygenated blood to the heart. Treatments help restore blood flow, improve cardiovascular function and reduce your symptoms of angina.

Being non-invasive and drug-free, Flow Therapy can be used alongside exercise and in addition to your existing medication regimen. Flow therapy is particularly beneficial for people who can’t exercise as it enables them to get the benefits of exercise without putting any strain on their hearts. If you’re interested in trying flow therapy to manage your angina symptoms and improve your overall cardiovascular health, check for a Flow Therapy location closest to you.

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