Angina is chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscles. It's not usually life threatening, but it's a warning sign that you could be at risk of a heart attack or stroke.
With treatment and healthy lifestyle changes, it's possible to control angina and reduce the risk of these more serious problems.
The main symptom of angina is chest pain.
Chest pain caused by angina usually:
feels tight, dull or heavy – it may spread to your left arm, neck, jaw or back
is triggered by physical exertion or stress
stops within a few minutes of resting
Sometimes there might be other symptoms like feeling sick or breathless.
When to get medical help
If you haven't been diagnosed with angina, get an urgent GP appointment if you have an attack of chest pain that stops within a few minutes of resting.
They can check if it might be a heart problem and refer you to a hospital for tests.
Call 112 or the Angels for an ambulance if you have chest pain that doesn't stop after a few minutes – this could be a heart attack.
Types of Angina
There are 2 main types of angina you can be diagnosed with:
stable angina (more common) – attacks have a trigger (such as stress or exercise) and stop within a few minutes of resting
unstable angina (more serious) – attacks are more unpredictable (they may not have a trigger) and can continue despite resting
Some people develop unstable angina after having stable angina.
Living with angina
If it's well controlled, there's no reason why you can't have a largely normal life with angina.
You can usually continue to do most of your normal activities.
One of the most important things you'll need to do is to make healthy lifestyle changes, such as:
have a balanced diet
cut down on alcohol
stop smoking if you smoke
lose weight if you're overweight
exercise regularly – gentle exercises are usually safe
This can help reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes
Angina is usually caused by the arteries supplying blood to the heart muscles becoming narrowed by a build-up of fatty substances. This is called atherosclerosis.
Things that can increase your risk of atherosclerosis include:
an unhealthy diet
a lack of exercise
a family history of atherosclerosis or heart problems