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Angina is the term given to chest discomfort that happens when the blood supply to your heart becomes restricted. It is a symptom of coronary heart disease, not an illness in itself. Angina is your heart’s way of complaining that it is not getting enough oxygen during physical exertion or stress.
This temporary shortage of oxygen (called an ‘angina attack’) to your heart muscle does not result in permanent damage to your heart. It usually passes when you stop the activity that brought it on or after taking medication. Many people learn to recognise how much activity will bring on their angina. This is stable angina.
If, however, angina happens during rest or isn’t consistently relieved by medication, it’s known as unstable angina. If you’re experiencing symptoms during rest or at night and they’re not relieved by medication, you must call 999 for an ambulance. This is because unstable angina happens when the blood supply to the heart is severely restricted. This type of chest pain is unpredictable. This can happen if you’ve never had angina before or be a symptom of your stable angina worsening. If this happens, seek urgent medical help.
Angina symptoms differ from person to person, but it is typically experienced as a discomfort in the middle of your chest, starting as a dull pain or ache.
Sufferers often describe it as heaviness, burning, tightness, constriction, squeezing or a pressure sensation on the chest.
Symptoms may spread to your throat or neck, jaw, shoulders or between your shoulder blades. You may also experience numbness, tingling, aching, or heaviness in one or both of your arms.
Finally, some angina sufferers experience symptoms that are very similar to heartburn and indigestion.
To diagnose angina, a doctor will do an assessment of your overall health. This will be done in a rapid-access chest pain clinic, a cardiology clinic or by your GP.
During your assessment, you can expect:
Angina treatment aims to control symptoms, help you stay active, improve your quality of life, and help to reduce further damage and worsening of the narrowing to your coronary arteries.
This means making positive and lasting lifestyle changes, taking medicines to relieve symptoms and for some people, surgical interventions. The severity of your condition and overall health will indicate to your care practitioner which treatment is best for you.
If you have frequent angina attacks, it is likely that you will need to take a combination of medications to help relieve your symptoms. The doctor will help you find the most effective combination for you.
One very common type of angina medication is called Glyceryl trinitrate (GTN). It can be taken in tablet or spray form, and can be effective in 1-2 minutes, helping to control your angina during an attack.
Developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is vital in preventing angina symptoms worsening and reducing risk of heart attacks or stroke.
Making consistent small changes to your lifestyle can make a significant difference to your overall health and wellbeing as well as helping with ongoing angina symptoms.
These changes include:
Visit our Living with a Heart Condition section for more information about how to manage your condition at home, how to stay well and reduce your risk of future heart conditions.
Feeling worried about how to manage your condition or concerned about the wellbeing of a loved one?
Our Advice Line nurses are here to answer any questions or concerns you may have about angina. Call 0808 801 0899 for free, confidential advice and support.
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You can make sure people with chest, heart or stroke in conditions Scotland get the support they need after returning home from hospital.
If you – or someone you know – needs help right now, we’re here for you.
Read our Essential Guides for more information.
Download our booklet Living with Angina to find out more about the topics discussed on this page.
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Download Your Heart Toolkit for advice and information about living with a heart condition.
Visit our Services page to find out more about the support that’s available after an angina diagnosis
This page was last updated on May 6, 2022 and is under regular review. If you feel anything is missing or incorrect, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to provide feedback.