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The purpose of the health information on this web page is for you to learn about angina and how best to manage it.

Your doctor has told you that you have angina…. what is angina?

Angina is a medical term. It is used to describe the symptom such as chest pain or shortness of breath. Angina occurs when the heart muscle is not getting enough oxygen.

What causes angina?

Angina is due to coronary artery disease. With coronary artery disease fats, cholesterol, and other materials build up in the walls of your arteries to form plaque. The arteries affected in angina are called the coronary arteries. These arteries supply the heart muscle with blood and oxygen. Over-time the coronary arteries become narrowed with plaque. When an artery becomes too narrowed, blood has trouble flowing through the artery. The heart muscle does not get enough oxygen. The signs of angina may occur.

What are the signs and symptoms of angina?

The signs and symptoms of angina may include:

  • A tightness, squeezing, fullness, pressure or pain in the chest. The pain goes away with rest or when you take your Nitroglycerin (Nitro)
  • The discomfort may be felt in other areas, such as the neck, jaw, shoulders, arms or back
  • There may be shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Nausea (sick feeling)

Remember your angina can feel very different from how another person feels angina.

When does it usually happen?

Angina usually happens at times when the heart needs more blood. Times such as…

  • With physical activity such as running to catch the bus
  • Walking in extreme weather (very hot, very cold, or wind)
  • With emotional stress (feeling upset or angry).

What should I do?

Angina is usually relieved by stopping what you are doing and resting. Taking your nitroglycerin (Nitro) should also relieve angina. Talk to your doctor about what to do when you have angina.

Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, if you are having angina you should:

  • Stop your activity and sit or lie down
  • If the pain does not go away in a minute or two, use nitroglycerin. Note the time.
  • If you still have angina after five minutes, take a second dose of nitroglycerin.
  • If your angina is still there in another five minutes take a third dose of nitroglycerin.
  • If your angina is not completely relieved five minutes after the third dose of nitroglycerin,call 911or emergency services.

The good news is that many people find that their angina can be prevented or controlled.

How can I do this?

  • Avoid sudden and extreme physical activity
  • Avoid physical activity in extremely hot or cold temperatures.
  • Avoid large heavy meals. Eat smaller amounts of food more often. Make sure to rest following a larger meal
  • Avoid or learn to deal with stress
  • Stop smoking. Nicotine makes blood vessels smaller. This will decrease the amount of oxygen carried by the blood
  • Lose weight, if you are not your ideal body weight
  • Take your medications as prescribed by your doctor

When to call your doctor…

You should call your doctor if you notice any of the following changes:

  • Less activity brings on your angina or angina comes when you are resting
  • Angina wakes you up at night
  • Angina comes more often or becomes more severe
  • Your nitroglycerin (Nitro) does not work as fast as before
  • You need to take more nitroglycerin (Nitro) more often

Is Angina a Heart Attack?

No. Although people sometimes think that angina is a heart attack they are not the same thing.

With angina, blood has trouble flowing through a narrowed coronary artery. The blood flow to the heart is reduced temporarily. This usually occurs with physical activity. When the blood flow is reduced, there is not enough oxygen for the heart to do its work.

With a heart attack, the plaque that has formed on the inside of your coronary artery wall breaks open. A blood clot forms in the already narrowed coronary artery. This blocks the artery completely. The blockage may be permanent or temporary. The blockage stops the blood from flowing to the heart muscle. Damage to the heart muscle occurs.

This material is for information purposes only. It should not be used in place of medical advice, instruction and/or treatment. If you have specific questions, please consult your doctor or appropriate health care provider.


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