COLUMN: Angina attacks and how to treat them

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Angina is chest pain that someone gets when the arteries carrying blood to their heart muscle have become narrowed.

This can restrict the blood supply to the heart muscle during exercise or excitement and may cause chest pain called angina.

Angina is different from a heart attack ‒which is when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is blocked, and the bit of heart muscle dies and a cardiac arrest when the heart actually stops pumping blood around the body. 

Angina attacks are usually caused by physical exertion, stress or excitement. But if someone has unstable angina, their attacks can be unpredictable, and occur with no obvious cause. 

Angina may be a sign that the person is at increased risk of having life-threatening problems, such as a heart attack or stroke. 

If the person with angina rests and takes angina medication, the pain should only last a few minutes. If the pain lasts longer, it is safer to presume that they are having a heart attack and call for emergency help. 

What to look for:

• Pain in the chest, which may spread to the jaw and arms 

• Shortness of breath 

• Sudden and extreme tiredness 

• Anxiety

What you need to do:  

• Help them to stop what they’re doing and sit down. Reassure them and make them comfortable this should help ease the pain. 

• Ask if they have any angina medication, like tablets or a spray. If they have, help them to take it. If the pain is still there five minutes after taking the medication, suggest they take a second dose.

• If they’re still in pain after another five minutes, or the pain returns, presume it’s a heart attack. Call 999 or 112 for emergency medical help. 

• If they haven’t got any medication and the pain doesn’t go away when they sit down or rest, then call 999 or 112 for emergency medical help immediately. 

• If the pain goes away completely within 15 minutes after they’ve rested and/or taken medication, they should usually be able to go back to what they were doing, if it’s not too strenuous. 

• If they’re worried about what’s happened or you are concerned, tell them to see their doctor. 

For those looking for quick, easily accessible first aid information, the St John Ambulance app is available free on smartphones and the website (www.sja.org.uk) offers demo videos, an interactive game, and lots of free advice. For more information about first aid courses please call 08700 104950.