What is Angina?

By Angela Hartley on 04 November 2021

If you have angina, it is important that you know as much as you can about what it is and how to manage it. This will ensure you are aware of what has happened to you, symptoms to be aware of and preventing future complications.

What is Angina?

Angina is chest pain that is associated with inadequate blood flow to the heart muscle. It is generally due to obstruction or spasm of the coronary arteries. The main cause of angina is Coronary Artery Disease, due to atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing) of the arteries feeding the heart.

Symptoms of Angina

The main symptom of angina is chest pain. The chest pain occurs initially mainly on exertion.

The type of chest pain in angina is of the form of:

  • Heaviness
  • ‚ÄčTightness
  • Aching
  • Burning

Description of chest pain:

It is a pain felt right in the middle of the chest, which can spread towards the neck or the jaw, the arm and the wrist (and feel like handcuffs), most often on the left side. Sometimes it is situated lower down, towards the pit of the stomach. There is a sensation of tightness (the feeling as though you are being gripped in a vice), yet some people describe it as only mildly painful discomfort.

Some patients describe the pain as radiating to the shoulders, down the arm and up to the jaw.

When does Angina occur?

Angina is one of the most common symptoms of coronary artery disease. Stable angina is the most typical. Angina is said to be “stable” since it occurs repeatedly during the one same exertion, at least in the same circumstances. An equal intensity of exertion sets it off but cold conditions or emotions can also provoke it. You can cope adequately with moderate exertion, but when it reaches a certain intensity, you may feel pain. The pain usually stops after 1 to 5 minutes rest.

What to do when you experience chest pain

Chest Pain On Exertion

Pain is a useful warning of inadequate blood supply to the heart muscle. Do not try to walk through pain. Rest is necessary if chest pain is caused by exercise.

Chest Pain At Rest

As coronary artery disease progresses, the arteries narrow even further and blood flow is severely reduced to the heart muscle. Signs of this occurring include your chest pain increasing in intensity, occurring more frequently or with less effort and finally it may occur at rest. This indicates that the angina may have become more serious. You may also experience symptoms such as breathlessness, feel sweaty or clammy and generally unwell. If your pain or these symptoms do not disappear with rest or your GTN spray (if prescribed), it may indicate you are having a heart attack and you require immediate medical attention. See your doctor urgently or call an ambulance!

Using a GTN Spray

If you have pain follow the guidelines below for using GTN.

How to use your GTN spray

GTN is a drug that acts very quickly to widen the coronary arteries, and to relieve the effects of angina.

Follow the guidelines below:

  • Always sit down and try to rest and relax
  • Spray the GTN once, under your tongue
  • Rest for five minutes
  • If the pain has not gone, repeat the GTN spray under your tongue
  • Rest for five minutes
  • If the pain has not gone, repeat the GTN spray under your tongue. If you still have pain after three sprays (ie 15 minutes), dial 999 for an ambulance. If your pain is relieved completely by the GTN spray, you should rest for 10 minutes before you carry on. Talk to your doctor if your pain is new, different, lasts longer or you are concerned.

About Me

I'm Angela Hartley, Cardiac Nurse and Exercise Coach and I'm here to help you get fitter, stronger and get your mojo back. 

No matter how unfit you are or what heart condition you have, we can help! As part of the programmes on offer you will feel part of a community, be able to use a range of tools to keep you motivated and have access to a members area on the website where you can interact with others, learn more about your heart condition and track your progress.

Learn more about my Zoom classes here and my one-to-one programmes here.