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Angina is a pain or discomfort felt in your chest, which is usually caused by coronary heart disease.Some people feel the pain in their arm, neck, stomach or jaw.

What causes angina?

Angina is usually caused by coronary heart disease. When the arteries that supply your heart muscle with blood and oxygen become narrowed, the blood supply to your heart muscle is restricted. This can cause the symptoms of angina.

Angina symptoms are often brought on by physical activity, an emotional upset, cold weather or after a meal. The episodes usually subside after a few minutes.

Other causes of angina

There are two other causes of angina. Variant angina (also known as Coronary artery spasm or Prinzmetal’s angina) happens when a coronary artery supplying blood and oxygen to your heart goes into spasm.

Cardiac syndrome X (also known as microvascular angina) usually occurs when you’re exerting yourself, for example when you’re physically active, or have had an emotional upset. With cardiac syndrome X, your coronary arteries will appear normal when they’re investigated, and there will be no evidence of the atheroma (fatty build-up in your arteries) that usually causes angina.

Angina symptoms

Angina often feels like a heaviness or tightness in your chest, and this may spread to your arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach as well. Some people describe a feeling of severe tightness, while others say it’s more of a dull ache. Some people experience shortness of breath too.

If you think your angina has got worse, feels different than it has before, has become more frequent, or has changed in any other way, you should consult a doctor immediately.

What should I do if I get chest pains?

If you have not been diagnosed with angina and experience chest pain, call for an ambulance immediately.

If you have already been diagnosed with angina, you may experience angina pain or discomfort that you can manage by taking your glyceryl trinitrate (GTN) spray or tablets, and resting.

However, it could be a heart attack so if you feel:

  • a crushing pain, heaviness or tightness in your chest.
  • a pain in your arm, throat, neck, jaw, back or stomach.
  • become sweaty, feel light-headed, sick or become short of breath.

You can take these steps:

  • Stop what you are doing and sit down and rest.
  • Take your GTN spray and tablets, according to your doctor or nurse’s instructions. The pain should ease within a few minutes – if it doesn’t, take a second dose.
  • If the pain does not ease within a few minutes after your second dose, call 999 immediately.
  • If you’re not allergic to aspirin, chew one adult tablet (300mg). If you don’t have any aspirin or you are not sure if you’re allergic to aspirin, you should rest until the ambulance arrives.
  • Even if your symptoms don’t match the above but you suspect you’re having a heart attack, call for an ambulance immediately.
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