Angina is usually caused by the build-up of plaque in your artery walls, which makes it harder for blood to get to your heart. Learn what to do when you have angina symptoms.

Angina happens when your heart isn't getting enough blood. Your heart may try to improve the blood supply by beating harder and faster. This causes symptoms of angina and is a sign that your heart needs to rest. 

Angina symptoms differ depending on who you are, but common descriptions of angina include:

  • Discomfort, heaviness or tightness of the chest which may spread to the back, shoulders, neck or jaw. Other people describe it as a dull ache.
  • Discomfort in the arm, neck or jaw with no chest discomfort.
  • The discomfort can range from mild or dull to severe.
Angina action plan

Sometimes people struggle to tell the difference between angina and a heart attack as the symptoms can be the same. With angina, the symptoms will ease after a few minutes of resting or taking medication prescribed by your doctor such as GTN (glyceryl trinitrate). If you are having a heart attack, your symptoms are unlikely to ease after a few minutes of resting or taking medication. 

When you have symptoms of angina, follow your angina action plan.

Angina is usually caused by atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of plaque in the walls of your arteries. This build-up can narrow one or more of the coronary arteries that feed blood to the heart. Having narrowed coronary arteries, can result in less blood getting to the heart muscle. 

The most common heart test used to check if you have angina involves looking at x-ray pictures of your arteries (angiography).

There are treatments that can be used to help control angina long-term. These include:

  • Opening up your arteries with a special balloon and stent (angioplasty)
  • Making a new way for blood to flow around a blocked artery (bypass surgery)
  • You may also be prescribed medications to help prevent further angina episodes. 

One of the most important things you can do is learn what triggers your angina and plan how to cope with your triggers. For example:

  • Slow down or take rest breaks if angina comes on with exertion
  • Avoid large meals and rich foods that leave you feeling very full, especially if angina comes on after a heavy meal
  • Try to avoid situations that make you upset or stressed if angina comes on with stress
  • Learn ways to handle stress that can't be avoided.

Living with angina is not just about managing the symptoms. You have an important role to play in your health, and can make choices today to improve your heart health.

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