Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, May 2011.
This factsheet is for people who have angina, or who would like information about it.
Angina describes the pain or discomfort felt in the chest when the flow of oxygen-rich blood in a coronary artery (a blood vessel that supplies the heart with blood) is restricted.
Angina is a symptom of coronary heart disease and affects about two million people in the UK. You’re more likely to get angina as you get older and men are more likely to get it than women. Angina usually starts with chest pain or tightness when you’re under stress or doing some sort of physical activity.
There are two main types of angina.
Stable angina is when you get regular or predictable symptoms that you have had for more than two months. Symptoms of stable angina usually develop gradually over time and you can often notice a pattern to your symptoms. For example, it’s common to only get symptoms when you do physical activity or if you’re under a lot of stress. Symptoms of stable angina that get worse with physical activity often pass within a few minutes of rest.
Unstable angina is usually caused by sudden narrowing of a coronary artery and can mean you’re at risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Symptoms of unstable angina often come on after only a small amount of effort or even when resting. There is often no pattern to your symptoms and they may last for 30 minutes or more. Pain and discomfort may develop quickly and be more severe and frequent than with stable angina. If you get sudden chest pain or you think you may have unstable angina, call for emergency help immediately.
If a coronary artery becomes completely blocked, part of the heart muscle may be starved of oxygen and become damaged. This is a heart attack. The pain is usually severe and lasts longer than that of angina. If you have angina, your usual treatment may not relieve the pain of a heart attack. If you suspect that you, or someone else, is having a heart attack, call for emergency help immediately.
Angina is often brought on by physical activity, emotional stress, cold weather or after a meal. If you have angina, you may have the following symptoms.
Symptoms of angina may vary depending on the type of angina you have. Some people may get very few symptoms, which can make a heart attack difficult to spot.
If you have stable angina and your symptom patterns change, see your GP as soon as possible. If you get angina symptoms at rest, call for emergency help immediately.
People with angina are more likely to have:
Stable angina is caused by narrowing of the coronary arteries. Gradually over time, fatty deposits build up on the walls of the coronary arteries and they become narrowed and hardened. This restricts blood flow to your heart and is known as atherosclerosis, which is the cause of coronary heart disease.
Unstable angina is caused when a fatty deposit (plaque) bursts (ruptures) and a blood clot forms around the plaque. This can partially or completely block a coronary artery and suddenly reduce blood flow to part of your heart.
The main cause of angina is coronary heart disease. You’re more likely to get coronary heart disease if you:
As well as coronary heart disease, other rarer problems can also lead to angina, including:
If you get pain or discomfort in your chest when you do physical activity, see your GP as soon as possible. Your GP will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history.
If you get sudden pain in your chest that is still present at rest, call for emergency help immediately.
When you arrive at hospital you will have some tests, which may include the following.
You may be able to control your angina by making lifestyle changes and taking medication. Any conditions you have that are causing your angina, such as high blood pressure, will be treated as well as your angina symptoms.
There are many things you can do to help control your symptoms and stop your angina from causing further heart problems.
You may be prescribed medicines that can provide you with immediate relief from your symptoms.
You may also be given regular medicines to help control your symptoms and to try to prevent you from having further heart problems, such as a heart attack. You may be given more than one medicine.
Always ask your GP for advice and read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine.
If you have severe angina, you may need to have a procedure called a coronary angioplasty or surgery.
This helps to improve blood flow to your heart and relieve the symptoms of angina. A coronary angioplasty widens your arteries by inflating a balloon in the narrowed or blocked coronary artery. A wire mesh tube called a stent is usually inserted to hold the coronary artery open.
Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG)
CABG is a type of surgery that involves taking a section of a blood vessel (graft) from your chest, leg or arm and attaching it to the affected coronary artery. This diverts the flow of blood around the narrowed or blocked coronary artery.
Most people can prevent angina by adopting a healthy lifestyle. This includes:
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the About our Health Information page.
Publication date: May 2011
Updated in September 2011 in line with latest advice on physical activity.
A number of our health assessments test your heart efficiency. Call 0845 600 3458 quoting ref. HFS100 to find out more.
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