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Angina: Care Instructions

Possible zones of pain felt with angina


Angina happens when there is not enough blood flow to your heart muscle. Angina is a sign of coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease happens when fatty deposits called plaque (say "plak") build up inside your coronary arteries. This plaque may limit the amount of blood to your heart muscle. Having coronary artery disease also increases your risk of a heart attack.

Chest pain or pressure is the most common symptom of angina. But some people have other symptoms, like:

  • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly, or in one or both shoulders or arms.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Light-headedness or sudden weakness.
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat.

Most women feel symptoms in their chest. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other angina symptoms like shortness of breath, tiredness, nausea, and back or jaw pain.

Angina can be dangerous. That's why it is important to pay attention to your symptoms. Know what is typical for you, learn how to control your symptoms, and understand when you need to get treatment.

A change in your usual pattern of symptoms is an emergency. It may mean that you are having a heart attack.

The doctor has checked you carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?


  • If your doctor has given you nitroglycerin for angina symptoms, keep it with you at all times. If you have symptoms, sit down and rest, and take the first dose of nitroglycerin as directed. If your symptoms get worse or are not getting better within 5 minutes, call 911 right away. Stay on the phone. The emergency operator will give you further instructions.
  • If your doctor advises it, take 1 low-dose aspirin a day to prevent heart attack.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.

Lifestyle changes

  • Do not smoke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet that is low in saturated fat and salt, and is high in fibre. Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about healthy eating.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. Or lose weight if you need to.


  • Talk to your doctor about a level of activity that is safe for you.
  • If an activity causes angina symptoms, stop and rest.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Light-headedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
  • You have angina symptoms that do not go away with rest or are not getting better within 5 minutes after you take a dose of nitroglycerin.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now if:

  • Your angina symptoms seem worse but still follow your typical pattern. You can predict when symptoms will happen, but they may come on sooner, feel worse, or last longer.
  • You feel dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.