What is Variant Angina?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 July 2019
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Also known as Prinzmetal’s angina, variant angina is a type of chest pain that occurs without any warning and normally lasts for only short period of time. Unlike other forms of angina that are triggered by activity, variant angina is more likely to occur when the individual is resting or attempting to sleep. The attacks can range from slightly irritating to extremely painful. Like all forms of angina, this condition is a sign that something with the cardiovascular system is not functioning properly.

The root cause of variant angina is a condition known as a transient coronary artery spasm. This spasm occurs when there is difficulty in pushing blood through an artery. In most cases, the location of the spasm is very near the area where the partial blockage is most pronounced. Episodes of spasms may occur swiftly and without warning, and disappear as quickly as they came.

Unlike other types of angina, variant angina is somewhat harder to detect. Since it does not typically occur during exercise, the treadmill test that is often used to identify the occurrence of other forms of angina will not be helpful. In like manner, conducting an electrocardiogram will not detect Prinzmetal’s angina unless the chest pains are occurring at the time the test is administered. In some cases, a diagnosis for this form of angina is made when tests have ruled out any other form of the condition.


There are several ways to treat variant angina. One of the more common is the use of nitrates to help control the spasms. In some people, nifedipine and other types of dihydropyridine calcium channel blockers are effective in controlling the angina. Some people who make use of herbal and vitamin supplements report that their chest pains are minimized by the use of magnesium supplements, sometimes in connection with potassium. In severe cases, surgery to correct the blockage causing the spasms may be the most effective means of eliminating variant angina.

Since chest pain can be a symptom of a number of different health issues, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. While the underlying cause may not be variant angina or some other pain that indicates some form of ischemic heart disease, a quick diagnosis makes it possible to begin treatments immediately. Should the origin of the chest pain be a partially blocked artery, treatment now rather than later can make the difference between successfully overcoming the condition and dying from a heart attack.



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