Chronic stable angina pectoris, the chest pain associated with reversible myocardial ischemia has detrimental effects on health-related quality of life, particularly in women. The limited research on gender differences in chronic stable angina suggests that angina may be experienced differently in women and that women report greater functional disability related to angina symptoms. No studies have examined gender differences in chronic stable angina from a multidimensional pain perspective or have included reliable and valid measures of pain that would facilitate comparing chronic angina patients with other chronic pain populations. The purpose of this descriptive study was to examine gender differences in characteristics of chronic stable angina using the short-form McGill pain questionnaire (SF-MPQ) and to explore relationships among these pain characteristics and perceived limitation in performing physical activities in patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) (physical limitation subscale of the Seattle angina questionnaire). One hundred and twenty-eight subjects (30.5% women) with stable CAD and angina pectoris documented by a cardiologist completed study questionnaires in an outpatient cardiology clinic. Results of the study suggest that men and women with chronic stable angina had more similarities than differences in chest pain characteristics. No significant gender differences were demonstrated in total sensory or affective intensity scores, the present pain intensity index, or the number of pain words chosen. However, women did report significantly greater pain intensity on the SF-MPQ visual analogue scale. Women were also significantly more likely to describe their chronic angina as 'hot-burning' and 'tender' and to have greater intensity of pain for these two descriptors. Despite the similarities in pain characteristics, women reported greater physical limitation related to anginal pain. The variables of social status and years diagnosed with CAD significantly interacted with gender in predicting physical limitation suggesting that gender-specific models of physical limitation in angina patients need to be explored. To our knowledge, this is one of the first studies that has assessed chronic anginal pain using a reliable and valid generic pain instrument. More research is needed to better understand the nature of gender differences in functional limitation secondary to anginal pain and the physiologic, cognitive-perceptual and psychosocial mechanisms that lead to angina-related functional disability.