If you have an attack of unstable angina while at rest, will the pain get worse if you begin engaging in physical activity?

Rest may be in the form of watching TV, standing while doing something passive, soaking in a bathtub, etc., and then suddenly, you have an episode of angina: pain in the chest.

What is unstable angina?

The unstable type is that which occurs while the patient is at rest or even asleep; it’s not predictable. When it decides to come, it will come.

It’s interesting to wonder about the following situation: The pain of unstable angina coming on while the patient is relaxing in a recliner watching TV.

The patient then exits the chair, picks up a vacuum cleaner or a 20 pound crate of books and carries it up a full flight of stairs. Will the chest pain worsen or is the pain “set” once it occurs?

Chest pain from coronary artery disease that occurs at rest is called unstable angina because “it suggests that there is a serious blockage of blood flow to the heart,” says Donna P. Denier, MD, of The Cardiology Center with the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.

“There is not enough blood getting through the blockage even at rest, and this could mean that if anything worsens the situation by increasing demand on the heart or reducing the flow, it could result in a heart attack.

“So, yes, if you are already having chest pain at rest, it will likely get worse with activity and cause the artery to close all the way, causing permanent damage to the heart.”

Persisting with the offending physical exertion will NOT train your heart to be stronger and thus eventually prevent the unstable angina.

Being in denial will not toughen up your coronary arteries.

donna denier, md

Dr. Denier has been practicing medicine for over 15 years and is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine – Cardiovascular Disease.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


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