Angina is a symptom, not a disease, but it can appear in coronary artery disease. These are the similarities and differences you may find helpful.

There are many kinds of angina, but they are all symptoms that usually occur as a result of an underlying heart problem. Coronary artery disease (CAD) also is not a singular disease but rather a group of conditions that can affect the structure and function of your heart.

This article will explore the differences between these two cardiac issues, how to determine the cause of your symptoms, and when to seek medical care.

“Angina,” or “angina pectoris,” is the medical term for chest pain. This chest pain or discomfort happens when blood flow to your heart is restricted, but it’s not a disease on its own.

Angina is considered stable when it results from physical activity or exercise and doesn’t progress or cause permanent damage to your heart. But angina that comes on suddenly or gets worse can be a symptom of an underlying heart condition and may eventually lead to a more serious problem such as a heart attack.

CAD is a group of conditions that cause a lack of blood flow to your heart, as the arteries narrow or become blocked off and prevent blood from flowing as it otherwise would to your heart.

As these blood vessels narrow and block blood flow, you also experience a reduction in oxygen to your heart. Conditions that are usually grouped into this category include:

  • unstable angina
  • acute coronary infarction
  • sudden cardiac death

Angina happens when the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart is reduced, causing ischemia.

Ischemic heart disease (another name for CAD) can result in all types of damage, signaled by various symptoms.

Angina develops as a result of muscle strain in your heart that is caused by the lack of blood flow, and it’s a primary symptom in many cases of CAD. It can also result from conditions such as stress or spasms in your blood vessels.

In addition to angina, symptoms that can occur in CAD include:

  • cold sweats
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • indigestion
  • neck pain
  • shortness of breath
  • weakness

Angina is caused by an ongoing or temporary lack of blood flow to your heart. It can also be caused by physical exertion, exercise, and a number of other heart conditions.

The cause of CAD is more complex. CAD can result from a buildup of fats or cholesterol, plaques, or stiff and narrowed blood vessels. The process in which substances build up in your blood vessels and reduce their capacity is called atherosclerosis.

CAD is often referred to as the “silent killer” because it progresses slowly and gradually over a lifetime. CAD rarely affects people in the first several decades of life, but when it does happen in younger people, it can progress more rapidly.

For most people, the risk of CAD increases after the age of 55 years.

If detected early on, atherosclerosis and other contributing factors to CAD may be slowed or even stopped with medications, treatments, and lifestyle changes.

Treatment for CAD depends on the severity of your symptoms. If CAD is diagnosed early when you have minimal symptoms, adopting a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle can help you slow the progression of the disease and avoid severe complications such as heart attack.

In more advanced cases of CAD in which your symptoms are significant enough to affect your daily activities, more aggressive treatment is usually required to avoid heart attack or even death.

Treatments for CAD may include:

If lifestyle changes and medications aren’t enough to reduce your symptoms and manage your CAD, your healthcare team may recommend procedures such as:

You and your healthcare team will decide what treatment is best for your specific situation based on your individual lifestyle, needs, and overall health condition.

Stable angina doesn’t typically decrease life expectancy, but the impact angina has on your life span depends on the extent of the heart damage that your chest pain is signaling.

CAD has been shown to significantly decrease life span, but the extent of that decrease depends on when it’s diagnosed and how it’s treated. The American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that heart conditions such as CAD, heart failure, and heart attack reduce life spans by about 10, 14, and 16 years, respectively.

In contrast, people without heart disease who have a heart-healthy lifestyle add about 10 years to their life span. A 2023 report from the AHA revealed that more than 40% of people over 50 years old could extend their life expectancy even more by making heart-healthy changes.

Regular visits to a primary care doctor can help identify heart conditions such as CAD early and increase the benefits of your treatment. If you experience severe chest pain that doesn’t go away after 5 minutes of rest, gets worse, or comes with other symptoms such as shortness of breath, call 911 or seek medical attention immediately.

CAD is the result of a lifetime of plaque buildup in your arteries. This buildup slows blood flow to your heart, resulting in the disease’s most common symptom: angina.

On its own, angina is not a disease, but it is often a symptom of underlying problems and should prompt you to make an appointment with a healthcare professional or seek immediate medical care.