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Living With Angina

Angina isn't a heart attack, but it does increase your risk of having a heart attack. The risk is even higher if you have unstable angina. For these reasons, it's important that you know:

  • The usual pattern of your angina, if you have it regularly.
  • What medicines you take (keep a list) and how to take them. Make sure your medicines are readily available.
  • How to control your angina.
  • The limits of your physical activity.
  • How and when to seek medical attention.

Know the Pattern of Your Angina

Stable angina usually occurs in a pattern. You should know:

  • What causes the pain to occur
  • What the pain feels like
  • How long the pain usually lasts
  • Whether rest or medicine relieves the pain

After several episodes, you’ll learn the pattern of your angina. You’ll want to pay attention to whether the pattern changes. Pattern changes may include angina that occurs more often, lasts longer, is more severe, occurs without physical exertion, or doesn't go away with rest or medicines.

These changes may be a sign that your symptoms are getting worse or becoming unstable. You should seek medical help. Unstable angina suggests that you're at high risk for a heart attack very soon.

Know Your Medicines

You should know what medicines you're taking, the purpose of each, how and when to take them, and possible side effects. Know exactly when and how to take fast-acting nitroglycerin or other nitrates to relieve chest pain.

Correctly storing your angina medicines and knowing when to replace them also is important. Your doctor can advise you about this.

If you have side effects from your medicines, let your doctor know. You should never stop taking your medicines without your doctor's approval.

Talk with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about taking your angina medicines. Tell him or her about any other medicines you’re taking. Some medicines can cause serious problems if they're taken with nitrates or other angina medicines.

Know How To Control Your Angina

After several angina episodes, you’ll know the level of activity, stress, and other factors that trigger your angina. By knowing this, you can take steps to prevent or lessen the severity of episodes.

Physical Exertion

Know what level of physical exertion triggers your angina and try to stop and rest before chest pain starts. For example, if walking up a flight of stairs leads to chest pain, stop halfway and rest before continuing.

If chest pain occurs during physical exertion, stop and rest or take your angina medicine. The pain should go away in a few minutes. If the pain doesn't go away or lasts longer than usual, call 9–1–1 for emergency care.

Emotional Stress

Anger, arguing, and worrying are examples of emotional stress that can trigger angina. Try to avoid or limit situations that cause these emotions.

Exercise and relaxation can help relieve stress. Alcohol and drug use play a part in causing stress and don't relieve it. If stress is a problem for you, talk with your doctor about getting help for it.

Eating Large Meals

If large meals lead to chest pain, eat smaller meals. Also, avoid eating rich foods.

Know the Limits of Your Physical Activity

Most people who have stable angina can continue their normal activities. This includes work, hobbies, and sexual relations. However, if you do very strenuous activities or have a stressful job, talk with your doctor.

Know How and When To Seek Medical Attention

Angina increases your risk for a heart attack. It’s important that you and your family know how and when to seek medical attention.

Talk with your doctor about making an emergency action plan. The plan should include making sure you and your family members know:

  • The signs and symptoms of a heart attack
  • How to use aspirin and nitroglycerin when needed
  • How to access emergency medical services in your community
  • The location of the nearest hospital that offers 24-hour emergency heart care

Discuss your emergency plan with your family members. Take action quickly if your chest pain becomes severe, lasts longer than a few minutes, or isn't relieved by rest or medicine.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between unstable angina and a heart attack. Both are emergencies, so you should call 9–1–1 right away.

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Angina Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Angina, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.

 
June 01, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.