Angina FAQ

What does an angina attack feel like?

An angina attack is characterised by a tight, squeezing pain in the chest area, often accompanied by shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness or nausea. Patients often feel a large pressure on the chest. Sometimes, pain may spread to the neck, shoulders, arms, jaw, back and abdomen. However, the exact symptoms differ from person to person, as not everyone experiences all of them. If you’re not sure whether you’re having an angina attack, contacting your healthcare provider is the best thing to do.

How serious is angina?

Angina itself is usually not life-threatening. However, suffering an angina attack is often a symptom of cardiovascular problems such as coronary artery disease (CAD), which increases the risk of a heart attack (myocardial infarction) in the future.1 A heart attack is a serious, life-threatening condition that needs urgent medical treatment. Therefore, even though angina doesn’t usually constitute a threat to life, any individual who has experienced angina should be carefully monitored to avoid the worsening of their symptoms.

How can you tell if you have angina?

It can be difficult to tell if you have angina. Only a doctor can confirm if a patient is suffering from angina, a heart attack or a different condition.

The main symptom of angina is tight, burning chest pain. Pain may spread to the neck, shoulders, arms, jaw, back or abdomen. In addition, patients often experience shortness of breath, dizziness and nausea. Encountering these symptoms is a warning sign that an angina attack could be taking place, so medical care should be sought. A series of cardiovascular tests performed in a clinic or hospital can confirm whether an individual is suffering from angina.

What is the main cause of angina?

Angina is caused by a narrowing of the arteries that supply oxygenated blood to the heart (the coronary arteries). When these vessels narrow, blood can no longer travel to the heart correctly. As blood contains the oxygen and nutrients that the heart muscle needs to function, reduced blood flow can become a large problem.2 The medical term for a lack of oxygen in the heart is ischemia.

Arteries may become narrower for several reasons. A common cause is atherosclerosis: an accumulation of fat deposits on the walls of the arteries, blocking the vessels and reducing the space available for the blood to pass through. In addition, an artery may also be blocked by a blood clot; the term for this is arterial thrombosis

What is the fastest way to cure angina?

The fastest way to stop the symptoms of angina is to take a drug called glyceryl trinitrate (GTN). The medication works by making blood vessels wider so that more blood and thus, oxygen can flow to the heart.3

GTN is often taken as a tablet or in spray form, and it can relieve pain and shortness of breath in a few minutes. Individuals who often suffer from angina are advised to carry GTN on them.

Can eating bring on angina?

Sometimes, chest pain may be felt after eating. The pain may be caused by heartburn or indigestion; however, in some cases, a heavy or large meal may trigger angina. This is because after eating, blood is pumped to the stomach and intestines to facilitate digestion, thus taking blood away from the heart. The reduced blood flow in the chest can trigger angina.

In addition, some individuals suffer from a condition called mesenteric angina or mesenteric ischemia: abdominal pain caused by a lack of blood flow into the small intestine during digestion.4 Eating can trigger mesenteric angina.

Where is angina pain usually felt?

Angina pain is felt mainly in the chest area. In some individuals, the pain or discomfort can also spread to the shoulders, arms, jaw, neck, back or abdomen.

How do I know if my pain is angina?

Angina causes a characteristic tight, squeezing pain. Experiencing other symptoms such as shortness of breath or fatigue is a sign that the pain is angina. However, it can sometimes be difficult to know whether the pain felt is angina or a different condition, such as indigestion or a panic attack. Any adult with tight chest pain should contact a healthcare practitioner, who will perform the appropriate tests to find out the cause of the pain, as well as detect any heart problems.

Is angina ever normal?

Although there are a variety of non-threatening causes of chest pain, if the discomfort is severe and persistent, it should not be overlooked. If you are experiencing pain alongside other angina symptoms such as shortness of breath or dizziness, you should get in touch with emergency services.

Can a 20-year-old have angina?

Yes, a 20-year-old may have angina; however, it is very rare.5 The risk of experiencing angina increases with age, specifically for men over 45 years old and women over 55, as arteries get narrower as we get older. 


  1. Shao C, Wang J, Tian J, Tang Y. Coronary Artery Disease: From Mechanism to Clinical Practice. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. 2020;:1-36.
  2. Kloner R, Chaitman B. Angina and Its Management. Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 2016;22(3):199-209.
  3. Ferreira J, Mochly-Rosen D. Nitroglycerin Use in Myocardial Infarction Patients - Risks and Benefits -. Circulation Journal. 2012;76(1):15-21.
  4. Acosta S. Mesenteric ischemia. Current Opinion in Critical Care. 2015;21(2):171-178.
  5. Guterbaum T, Øvrehus K, Veien K, Møller J, Mickley H. Angina Pectoris in Young Male due to Agenesis of Left Circumflex Artery. American Journal of Case Reports. 2018;19:517-522.

Julia Ruiz Rua

Neuroscience, Neuroscience, University of St Andrews, Scotland

Motivated Neuroscience undergraduate active in student life, hoping to gain experience in Neurology and Mental Health services. My professional interests are diverse, ranging from Science to Economics and the Fashion Business .
Completed modules in Psychology, Biology, Economics and Finance.
Experienced in, Mental Health Representative of the Disabled Student Network and a Writer

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