Angina Pectoris Clinical Presentation

Updated: Jul 19, 2018
  • Author: Jamshid Alaeddini, MD, FACC, FHRS; Chief Editor: Eric H Yang, MD  more...
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Most patients with angina pectoris report of retrosternal chest discomfort rather than frank pain. The former is usually described as a pressure, heaviness, squeezing, burning, or choking sensation. Anginal pain may be localized primarily in the epigastrium, back, neck, jaw, or shoulders. Typical locations for radiation of pain are arms, shoulders, and neck.

Typically, angina is precipitated by exertion, eating, exposure to cold, or emotional stress. It lasts for approximately 1-5 minutes and is relieved by rest or nitroglycerin. Chest pain lasting only a few seconds is not usually angina pectoris. The intensity of angina does not change with respiration, cough, or change in position. Pain above the mandible and below the epigastrium is rarely anginal in nature.

Ask patients about the frequency of angina, severity of pain, and number of nitroglycerin pills used during angina episodes.

Angina decubitus

Angina decubitus is a variant of angina pectoris that occurs at night while the patient is recumbent. Some have suggested that it is induced by an increase in myocardial oxygen demand caused by expansion of the blood volume with increased venous return during recumbency.


Physical Examination

For most patients with stable angina, physical examination findings are normal. Diagnosing secondary causes of angina, such as aortic stenosis, is important.

A positive Levine sign (characterized by the patient's fist clenched over the sternum when describing the discomfort) is suggestive of angina pectoris.

Look for physical signs of abnormal lipid metabolism (eg, xanthelasma, xanthoma) or of diffuse atherosclerosis (eg, absence or diminished peripheral pulses, increased light reflexes or arteriovenous nicking upon ophthalmic examination, carotid bruit).

Examination of patients during the angina attack may be more helpful. Useful physical findings include third and/or fourth heart sounds due to LV systolic and/or diastolic dysfunction and mitral regurgitation secondary to papillary muscle dysfunction.

Pain produced by chest wall pressure is usually of chest wall origin.