What is Angina?

Angina is a condition that affects the heart. It affects the arteries that provide the blood flow to the heart muscle. Over time these arteries can become furred up with cholesterol plaques. Cholesterol is a fatty deposit that is found in the bloodstream but which can adhere to the lining of the arteries causing them to narrow and harden.

Angina attacks occur mainly when a person is exercising or doing something that requires the heart to pump faster. As the arteries have narrowed and hardened, they are unable to expand as much as they should to allow to extra volume of blood through. This mean that the areas of the heart that are requiring extra oxygen to pump harder are deprived of oxygen and begin to suffer from oxygen deprivation.

The heart pumps blood around the body and can increase the volume it pumps as required when we exercise or are anxious, but to do this requires more oxygen. If the arteries have become narrowed, the extra blood containing the additional oxygen can’t get through to meet the demand and so the area beyond the narrowing is deprived of oxygen. This causes the pain associated with angina.

As angina is usually associated with exercise it usually goes away with rest.

Key symptoms of Angina:

  • Vice-like central chest pain occurs. Can be mistaken for indigestion. May be described as tight or dull
  • Pain comes on suddenly due to stress or exertion
  • Pain may radiate to jaw, arms, back or shoulders
  • Skin may look pale and sweaty
  • Pulse may be erratic or irregular
  • Casualty may be short of breath and anxious
  • Pain usually subsides within 8-10 minutes

How do you treat an angina attack?

  • Call for help, dial 999
  • Sit the person down in a comfortable position – a lazy “W” shape
  • Loosen tight clothing at neck and chest
  • Don’t allow them to walk around
  • Allow them to take their own medication if they have it (glycerol tri-nitrate, GTN ) usually comes in a spray or tablet form that is administered under the tongue
  • Reassure the sufferer
  • If you suspect this might be a heart attack – first ever episode or symptoms getting worse or no medication available don’t delay dial 999 or 112
  • Monitor the person carefully
  • If they become unconscious, their heart may have stopped, in which case you will need to commence CPR immediately.

It may be difficult to know the difference between an angina attack and a heart attack. If in any doubt, treat as if for a heart attack and call 999 or 112.

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