Watch: All about angina

Our short animation explains all about angina - learn what causes it, the differences between types of angina, and the best ways to manage your angina.

Angina is pain or discomfort in your chest. It often feels like heaviness, tightness or a dull ache and may spread to your arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach. Symptoms vary from person to person.  If you’re worried about your angina, speak to your GP.

If you haven’t been diagnosed with angina and you get chest pain, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

Stable angina usually improves after a few minutes rest

Angina is usually caused by a build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries that supply your heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood. The fatty deposits can make these arteries so narrow that your heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood. This can cause pain and discomfort.  

Different types of angina

There are different types of angina. Stable angina may be brought on by triggers such as exercise, eating a large meal, feeling anxious and cold weather. Stable angina usually improves after a few minutes rest. Medication should help too.

Unstable angina is more unpredictable. There may not be an obvious trigger for attacks. Medication might not help. An angina attack doesn’t permanently damage your heart muscle, and having angina doesn’t mean you’ll have a heart attack. But it does increase your risk, especially if you have unstable angina.

How can I manage my angina?

Your doctor may prescribe nitrates. Nitrates relax your blood vessels, allowing more oxygen-rich blood to reach your heart muscle. Short-acting nitrates, such as GTN, come as a tablet that you put under your tongue. Or as a spray. You use them when you feel an angina attack coming on, or before you do something that causes angina.

If you’ve taken a second dose of GTN and the pain hasn’t gone away after a few minutes, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

The BHF is funding the best scientists to find new and better ways to diagnose and treat angina

Long-acting nitrates come as pills or patches. You use these every day to prevent attacks.

Nitrates can cause side effects such as headaches or dizziness, but this usually doesn’t last long.  If you use nitrates regularly you can build up tolerance so they don’t work as well. If this happens, talk to your GP.

Other medications, such as beta blockers, can also help prevent angina.

If you have stable angina but your attacks begin to happen without obvious triggers, or you experience pain at rest, speak to your GP.

The BHF is funding the best scientists to find new and better ways to diagnose and treat angina. 

Help us create more resources like this

resourcesThis animation was created with input from our Patient Information Panel. A group of patients were involved at every stage, making suggestions and giving feedback to help us make the animation as useful as possible for everyone.

If you’d like to be involved in the development of our animations and other award-winning resources, why not join the panel?


More useful information