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Angina can happen when arteries get narrower

Angina is the symptoms, usually chest pain, of reduced blood flow to the heart. Angina is caused by a narrowed (but not blocked) coronary artery, which feeds blood to the heart. There is not permanent damage, which makes it different from a heart attack. 

Some people experience episodes of angina prior to a heart attack and may continue to experience it afterwards. For others they may never have experienced it. But it is important to know what angina is, what the symptoms are, how to recognise angina and heart attack signs and what to do about it.

Symptoms of angina

Angina symptoms differ between people. Angina usually happens during activity. Cold weather, being upset or angry may also trigger angina symptoms.

People who experience episodes of angina sometimes describe:

  • Discomfort, heaviness or tightness in the chest, which may spread to the back, shoulders, neck or jaw. Others may describe the feeling as a dull ache
  • Discomfort in their arm, neck or jaw with no chest discomfort
  • The discomfort can range from mild or dull to severe

It is important to note that angina generally eases after a few minutes of resting or taking medication prescribed by your doctor such as GTN (glyceryl trinitrate). If it doesn’t ease, or gets worse, you must seek medical attention.

Did you know?

Chest discomfort does not always indicate angina or heart problems as other conditions can cause similar discomfort, for example as muscular pain, indigestion or stomach upsets. It is important to talk to your doctor as soon as you can if you are getting any chest discomfort, so they can assess you to see what is causing the discomfort.

I have an angina action plan taped on the wall beside the fridge and my GTN spray is always on hand. You can never be too prepared.Frank
Frank

Stable vs. unstable angina

Stable angina refers to angina symptoms that generally occur during a certain level of physical activity but go away with rest and/or GTN medication. It shouldn’t become worse or more frequent. Unstable angina refers to symptoms that happen with minimal exertion or activity and can even occur at rest. Unstable angina can happen to people who have never experienced angina before.

Stable angina can become unstable angina when someone’s usual angina symptoms become more severe and their GTN spray is taking longer than usual to relieve the symptoms.

It is important to tell your doctor as soon as possible if your symptoms become worse or more frequent as you may need further tests or treatment.

The causes of angina

Angina is a result of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.

The narrowing of the artery due to atherosclerosis can lead to less blood getting to the heart muscle during times of physical activity when the heart is beating harder and faster. This lack of blood can result in the development of angina symptoms such as chest and/or back, jaw, shoulder and neck discomfort.

The difference between angina and a heart attack

Sometimes people struggle to tell the difference between angina and a heart attack as the symptoms can be much the same.

  • With angina, the symptoms will usually ease and disappear within a few minutes of resting and/or taking your prescribed GTN medication.
  • If you are having a heart attack your symptoms are unlikely to ease after a few minutes of resting or taking medication.
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Create an angina action plan

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Angina action plan

If you think you are having angina, and usually take GTN spray or tablets:

      • Stop what you are doing and rest now. Tell someone how you are feeling. Take 1 puff of your GTN spray, or 1 tablet under your tongue
      • If your angina is relieved by rest or your GTN spray or tablet, you can resume your activities gently
      • After 5 minutes if your symptoms have not been relieved, take 1 more puff of your GTN spray, or 1 more tablet under your tongue
      • After 5 more minutes if your symptoms have not been relieved, take 1 more puff of your GTN spray, or 1 more tablet under your tongue
      • If your angina is not relieved after a further 5 minutes, treat as a heart attack – call an ambulance. Dial 111 immediately.

If your angina becomes more frequent, severe, lasts longer or happens when you are doing very little or resting, see your doctor in the next 24 hours.

Get a free copy of our Angina Action Plan

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