If you’re an EMT, you’ve probably heard patients complain about chest pain more than once. We know chest pain sounds like a vague term— that’s why we’re here to briefly explain chest pain and all its potential causes. Let’s get technical, shall we?

Stable Angina vs Unstable Angina
To understand chest pain, you must know the difference between stable and unstable angina.


Stable Angina

Stable Angina refers to the chest pain that lasts less than 15 minutes— this type is commonly felt during any time of physical exertion. Stable Angina improves with rest and nitro. With Stable Angina, your patient may have a higher heart rate than normal. Their skin may feel warm, dry, and have a pinkish hue. Blood pressure will either be normal or elevated.

Unstable Angina

Unstable Angina is a little different— and you guessed it, it might be more complicated than Stable Angina. Chest pain associated with unstable Angina lasts longer than 15 minutes and is felt with exertion and rest. It may or may not get better with rest or nitro. Unstable Angina is caused by blood clots that temporarily block the coronary vessel. This is why it occurs at rest and does not get better with rest or nitro. Like Stable Angina, patients with Unstable Angina may demonstrate warm, dry skin with a pinkish tint. Blood pressure will be normal or elevated as well.

In both cases, it is vital to get patient’s full history.

Pro Tip: Before you get frustrated with vague terms remember your patient didn’t read the textbook or take the NREMT!

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Your patients will likely complain of chest pain at some point in your EMT career. We hope this quick read will help you on the field one day.


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