What is angina?
Angina is pain or discomfort that happens when your heart can't get enough blood and oxygen.
Angina is caused by coronary heart disease.
Over time a fatty material called plaque builds up in your coronary arteries, making them become narrow. This reduces the blood flow to your heart, and sometimes it may not get as much blood as it needs.
Stable angina is chest pain that can occur during physical activity or extreme emotion.
Unstable angina is chest pain that occurs suddenly and becomes worse over time. It happens seemingly without cause. You may be resting or even asleep.
If you have angina pain that lasts for more than 10 minutes call Triple Zero (000).
Prinzmetal angina (coronary artery spasm) is a temporary discomfort or pain caused by a spasm (constriction) in one or more of your coronary arteries, which can block the blood supply to your heart muscle. Spasms can range from very minor to severe, and sometimes may completely block the blood supply to your heart. Coronary artery spasm fact sheet (PDF).
Angina and heart attack
Angina is not a heart attack, but it is an indicator that you are at high risk of having a heart attack.
If you have angina your risk of having a heart attack increases.
Angina causes pain or discomfort that usually feels tight, gripping or squeezing. It can vary from mild to severe.
People feel angina in many different ways:
- You may feel angina in the centre of your chest.
- It may spread to your back, neck or jaw. It may also spread to one or both shoulders, arms or hands.
- You might feel it in other parts of your body but not in your chest.
- You may not even have pain, but get an unpleasant feeling in your chest, or feel short of breath.
People can have symptoms at different times. Some get them early in the morning, or when resting or even sleeping. Some get angina in cold weather, after a heavy meal or after physical activity.
If you think you may have angina, see your doctor.
What to do if you have angina
- As soon as you feel angina symptoms, immediately stop and rest.
- If rest alone doesn’t relieve the symptoms, take a dose of your angina medicine. Sit or lie down before using your spray or tablet, because it can make you dizzy. Use the smallest dose you normally take (e.g. a full, half, or even quarter of a tablet).
- Wait 5 minutes. If the angina is not relieved, take another dose of your angina medicine.
- Wait another 5 minutes.
- Talk – if someone is with you tell them how you’re feeling, or call a relative or friend.
- Call Triple Zero (000) if your angina:
- is not completely better within the 10 minutes you have waited or
- is severe or
- gets worse quickly.
Ask for an ambulance. Don’t hang up. Wait for advice from the operator.
Your doctor may use one or more of these tests to check if you have angina:
- blood tests
- chest X-ray
- coronary angiogram
- coronary computed tomography angiogram (CCTA)
- electrocardiogram (ECG)
- cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (CMRI)
- stress exercise tests.
Treatments can help with your angina symptoms and also help manage the heart disease that causes them.
Your doctor may prescribe medicines like nitrates to help relieve your angina episodes. Nitrates relax and widen blood vessels, letting more blood flow to the heart. The most common short-acting nitrate medicine is glyceryl trinitrate (GTN). Your doctor may prescribe other medicines too.
You may need to make some changes to help stop your heart disease getting worse. Read more about looking after yourself when you have heart disease.
If lifestyle changes and medicines don't help you to manage angina, you may need a medical procedure to treat the underlying heart disease.
Recovering from a heart attack?
Learn more about heart attack recovery, including information on what happened to your heart, heart attack treatment and how you can recover sooner.
Need more help?
Call 13 11 12 and talk to one of our qualified health professionals.
About our Heart Foundation Helpline
Troy had a cardiac arrest last month. His sixth.
His family are lucky to have him around this Christmas.
Read Troy's story
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