I am
What is angina?
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

What is angina?

Angina is a type of chest pain or discomfort that’s a symptom of an underlying heart problem, usually coronary heart disease (CHD).

Key takeaways

  • Angina is temporary chest pain or discomfort that happens when your heart doesn’t get enough blood and oxygen. 
  • Angina can be a symptom of coronary heart disease. 
  • It’ is important that you visit your doctor and get appropriate treatment for angina. 
  • If angina symptoms continue for more than 10 minutes, are severe or get worse, call Triple Zero (000). 
4 min read


Angina is a type of chest pain or discomfort that’s a symptom of an underlying heart problem, usually coronary heart disease (CHD). It is not a disease itself.  

Coronary heart disease occurs when there’s narrowing of your coronary artery, which supplies blood to your heart, usually due to a build-up of plaque. Plaque is made of fat, cholesterol and other materials. This plaque can reduce the blood flow and supply of vital oxygen to your heart muscle.

What are the signs and symptoms of angina?  

Angina is pain or discomfort that may feel like heaviness, pressure, tightness or squeezing in your chest. Different people experience angina in different ways. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Some people with angina feel chest discomfort but have no pain at all. Although angina is quite common, it can be hard to distinguish from other types of chest pain, such as indigestion.  

Angina can stop and start, and episodes of angina can last anywhere from seconds to minutes. It often happens when your heart is working harder than usual, such as during physical exertion, emotional stress or after a heavy meal. During these times, your heart needs more oxygen rich blood than the narrowed arteries can deliver. 

What should you do if you experience angina? 

There are several steps you should take as soon as you feel angina symptoms. They are: 

1. Stop and rest immediately. 
2. Take your medication.  If rest doesn’t relieve your symptoms, take one dose of your angina medicine. Sit or lie down before taking your medication, because it can make you dizzy. Use the smallest dose you normally take (e.g. a full, a half or even a quarter of a tablet). 
  • Spray: once under the tongue 
  • Tablet: place under your tongue but do not swallow it. When your symptoms stop, spit out what is left of the tablet.3. Wait five minutes. If the angina continues, take another dose of medication. 
4. Wait another five minutes. 
5. Tell someone how you’re feeling, or call a relative or friend. 
6. Call Triple Zero (000) if the angina: 
  • Is not completely relieved within the 10 minutes you have waited or 
  • Is severe or  
  • Gets worse quickly. 
  • Ask for an ambulance and don’t hang up – then wait for advice from the operator. 

Download our heart attack warning signs action plan

Is angina the same as a heart attack? 

No, angina is not the same as a heart attack. There’s usually no permanent muscle damage caused by angina. The pain often fades away with rest or medication. If you experience angina when you’re resting, this is a sign that the condition is getting worse and you should seek medical attention. 

What are the risk factors for angina? 

Angina and heart attacks are usually caused by coronary heart disease, which has following are risk factors. 

Risk factors you can't change:

  • Family history of coronary heart disease 
  • Getting older 
  • Being male 
  • Being a post-menopausal woman 
  • Ethnic background – people of certain ethnic backgrounds, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have increased risk of coronary heart disease. 

Risk factors you can change:​

  • Unhealthy diet 
  • Being physically inactive 
  • Being overweight or obese 
  • Smoking – either being a smoker or inhaling other people’s smoke (passive smoking) 
  • Excessive alcohol use 
  • Diabetes 
  • High blood pressure 
  • High cholesterol 
  • Lack of good social support.  ​

Learn more about risk factors for heart disease.

How can you help prevent angina?  

There are five simple steps to keep your heart healthy and prevent coronary heart disease and angina. They are:

  1. Eat a heart-healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight 
  2. Spend more time being physically active
  3. Be smoke free
  4. Control your cholesterol levels
  5. Control your blood pressure.  


Download our Protect Your Heart booklet

How is angina diagnosed? 

To diagnose angina, your doctor will review your symptoms, ask about your family history of heart disease and conduct a physical examination. Your doctor may ask you to have some tests, including: 

  • Blood tests. These measure your cholesterol levels and other heart disease markers. 
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). This test measures your heart’s electrical signals. It can show whether the blood flow through your heart is reduced. 
  • Stress test. This test makes your heart work harder by exercising. It can bring on and diagnose angina. 

You may also be referred to have an angiogram or other tests to look for narrowing in the arteries to your heart. Read more about medical tests to diagnose heart conditions. 

How is angina treated? 

Angina treatment reduces the frequency and severity of symptoms. It also reduces your risk of a heart attack by treating other underlying conditions. The options for angina treatment are included below.

By changing your lifestyle 

Changes to your lifestyle, such as the five simple steps listed above can help to prevent episodes of angina.

There are five simple steps to keep your heart healthy and prevent coronary heart disease and angina. They are:

  1. Eat a heart-healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight
  2. Spend more time being physically active
  3. Be smoke free
  4. Control your cholesterol levels
  5. Control your blood pressure  

Through a better understanding of your angina symptom triggers  

By observing the pattern of when and with what activity your angina symptoms start, you can then consider:

  • Your physical activity limits
  • Avoiding large meals
  • Avoiding stress
  • Limiting alcohol consumption. 

With the use of nitrate and other medications  

Nitrate medications (for example, glyceryl trinitrate or GTN) increase blood flow to your heart. These are available in a spray or dissolvable tablet form. Some nitrate medications are used to relieve angina, whilst others are taken every day as a preventative and controlling measure.

Other medications may be prescribed if you have coronary heart disease to reduce your risk of a heart attack or other complications.

Through surgery 

Depending on the condition of your coronary arteries, your doctor may recommend percutaneous coronary intervention (angioplasty, stent) or coronary artery bypass surgery. These procedures work to increase blood flow to your heart.

Living with angina 

Angina is not a disease. You can live a long and active life with angina by managing it with medications and lifestyle changes. It’s important that your angina is investigated by your doctor to manage your risk of future complications, such as heart attack.

Download our understanding angina resource

You might also be interested in

Cardiac arrest at 33: the challenges of restarting your life

Cardiac arrest at 33: the challenges of restarting your life

Cardiac arrest at 33: the challenges of restarting your life

Emma shares her story and opens up about her emotional struggles....

What is atrial fibrillation?

What is atrial fibrillation?

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia where your heart beats irregularly and fast....

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Visit the St Vincents Hospital NSW and Heart Foundation Aboriginal heart health website for more information...

Lessons learned: recovering from open heart surgery

Lessons learned: recovering from open heart surgery

Lessons learned: recovering from open heart surgery

After having five open heart surgeries between the ages of 13 and 41, Peter knows a thing or two about recovery....

What is a cardiac arrest?

What is a cardiac arrest?

What is a cardiac arrest?

With immediate help a cardiac arrest can be survived. Learn how to save a life....

Blood pressure and your heart

Blood pressure and your heart

Blood pressure and your heart

Understand blood pressure and how it can impact your heart health....

Fit, active and healthy – Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack

Fit, active and healthy – Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack

Fit, active and healthy – Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack

Fit, active and healthy, Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack. However, after experiencing a ‘widow maker’, she counts herself lucky....

What is coronary heart disease?

What is coronary heart disease?

What is coronary heart disease?

Coronary heart disease (CHD) or coronary artery disease occurs when a coronary artery clogs and narrows because of a buildup of plaque....

Blood cholesterol

Blood cholesterol

Blood cholesterol

Keeping your blood cholesterol at a healthy level can help you reduce your risk of heart disease and other serious conditions. ...

What is an arrhythmia?

What is an arrhythmia?

What is an arrhythmia?

Arrhythmia is a fault in the heart’s electrical system, which affects your heart’s pumping rhythm....

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

The fundraising race where you set the pace. Run, jog or walk MyMarathon at your own pace during October....

Tenecteplase versus alteplase for stroke thrombolysis evaluation trial

Tenecteplase versus alteplase for stroke thrombolysis evaluation trial

Professor Mark Parsons, Institution: University of Melbourne...

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Research Directory

Research Directory

Hot oats – (base recipe)

Hot oats – (base recipe)

Hot oats – (base recipe)

10 minutes
Serves 2 (Makes 2 cups)

How can I beat the barriers and get active for a healthy heart?

How can I beat the barriers and get active for a healthy heart?

How can I beat the barriers and get active for a healthy heart?

GLOBAL CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH FUNDERS FORUM

GLOBAL CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH FUNDERS FORUM

GLOBAL CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH FUNDERS FORUM

FACILITATING INTERNATIONAL CLINICAL TRIALS ...

Breakfast tacos

Breakfast tacos

Breakfast tacos

5 minutes
Serves 1

What waist measurements mean for your heart

What waist measurements mean for your heart

What waist measurements mean for your heart

How your waist measurement contributes to your heart health...

Pumpkin falafel wraps

Pumpkin falafel wraps

Pumpkin falafel wraps

10 minutes
Serves Serves 4 (as a main meal)

Breakfast recipes

Breakfast recipes

Breakfast recipes

Heart healthy breakfasts to start your day right...

Kids recipes

Kids recipes

Kids recipes

Find heart healthy kids recipes...

Asian recipes

Asian recipes

Asian recipes

Find heart healthy Asian recipes....

Physical activity after a heart attack

Physical activity after a heart attack

Physical activity after a heart attack

Discover what you need to know about being active after a heart attack....

Q&A with Dr Louise Segan

Q&A with Dr Louise Segan

Q&A with Dr Louise Segan

Optimal treatment of atrial fibrillation in people with cardiac dysfunction and scarring of the heart ...

State based advocacy

State based advocacy

State based advocacy activity supporting local communities...

Cardiac Rehabilitation Advocacy

Cardiac Rehabilitation Advocacy

What is heart failure?

What is heart failure?

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a condition where your heart isn’t pumping as well as it should be....

Absolute CVD risk clinical guidelines

Absolute CVD risk clinical guidelines

The Absolute Cardiovascular Disease Risk (CVD) Guidelines helps healthcare professionals identify, prevent and manage a person's risk of developing CVD. ...

Our Annual Reports

Our Annual Reports

Our Annual Reports

Discover our Annual reports from 2013 onwards. ...

Heart conditions in women

Heart conditions in women

Heart conditions in women

Like men, women can be diagnosed with a range of heart conditions....

Heart Week

Heart Week

Heart Week

May 3 – 9, 2021...

Heart failure clinical resources

Heart failure clinical resources

Resources and clinical information for health professionals...

What is angina?

What is angina?

What is angina?

Angina is a type of chest pain or discomfort that’s a symptom of an underlying heart problem, usually coronary heart disease (CHD)....

Heart-healthy drinks

Heart-healthy drinks

Heart-healthy drinks

While water is clearly the most heart-healthy drink, there are other drinks that can be enjoyed in moderation. ...

Create your fundraiser at Do it for Heart

Create your fundraiser at Do it for Heart

Create your fundraiser at Do it for Heart

Become a Heart Foundation fundraiser, do it for heart and make a real difference to your community....

Help others in need through a gift in your Will

Help others in need through a gift in your Will

Help others in need through a gift in your Will

Ian “did not hesitate” to leave 100% of his estate to the Heart Foundation....

Being a carer for a heart attack patient

Being a carer for a heart attack patient

Being a carer for a heart attack patient

Your role as a carer for a heart attack patient is an important one – explore some useful things to know....

Beef recipes

Beef recipes

Beef recipes

Find heart healthy beef recipes....

Dairy and your heart health

Dairy and your heart health

Dairy and your heart health

Not all dairy products are equal. Discover different types of dairy foods and their impact on heart health....