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Angina is pain or discomfort that happens when your heart can't get enough blood and oxygen. Angina episodes usually happen during physical activity or extreme emotion.

If you have chest pain that lasts for more than 10 minutes call Triple Zero (000).

Angina is caused by coronary artery 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.

Unstable Angina

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. 

Prinzmetal Angina

Prinzmetal angina ( or coronary artery spasm) is a temporary discomfort or pain caused by a spasm or 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.

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.

Symptoms

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 center 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 do I do if I have angina? 

  1. As soon as you feel angina symptoms, immediately stop and rest.
  2. 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).
  3. Wait 5 minutes. If the angina is not relieved, take another dose of your angina medicine.
  4. Wait another 5 minutes.
  5. Talk – if someone is with you tell them how you’re feeling, or call a relative or friend.
  6. Call Triple Zero (000) if your angina:
  • is not completely better within the 10 minutes you have waited;
  • is severe;
  • gets worse quickly.

Ask for an ambulance. Don’t hang up. Wait for advice from the operator.

Diagnosis

Your doctor may use one or more of the following tests to check if you have angina:

Medication

Your doctor may prescribe medication, such as 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.

Reduce Your Risk

You may need to make some changes to your lifestyle to help stop your heart disease getting worse. These changes may include:

  • Exercising regularly.
  • Maintaining a healthy diet.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Controlling cholesterol.
  • Controlling blood pressure.
  • Not smoking.