Complications of angina 

Heart attacks and strokes are the most serious complications of angina.

The stress of living with a long-term condition can also have an impact on your emotional health.

Heart attack

Most cases of angina are caused by fatty deposits (plaques) building up on the inside walls of the blood vessels leading to the heart.

There's a small chance one of the plaques will break away, causing a blood clot to form. The blood clot can then block the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the muscles of the heart, causing extensive damage to the heart muscles and triggering a heart attack.

The risk of having a heart attack depends on a number of things, such as age, blood pressure and the extent of the blockage.

Depending on these factors, the risk of having a heart attack in any given year can range from less than 1 in 100 to 1 in 12. It's always possible to lower this risk by making lifestyle changes (see preventing angina for more information).

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • chest pain  the pain is usually in the centre of your chest and can feel like a sensation of pressure, tightness or squeezing
  • pain in other parts of your body  it can feel as if the pain is travelling from your chest to your arm (usually the left arm, but it can affect both arms), jaw, neck, back and abdomen
  • shortness of breath 
  • nausea 
  • an overwhelming sense of anxiety (similar to having a panic attack)

You should dial 999 immediately if you suspect a heart attack.

Heart attacks are treated using a combination of medication to improve the blood flow to the heart and surgery to bypass the blockage (coronary artery bypass graft) or widen the artery (percutaneous coronary intervention).

Stroke

If you have fatty plaques clogging up the arteries to your heart, you may also have plaques clogging up the main blood vessel that supplies your brain with blood (the carotid artery).

If one of the plaques ruptures, it could cause a blood clot to develop, blocking the supply of blood to your brain and triggering a stroke.

As with a heart attack, you can reduce your risk of having a stroke by making lifestyle changes.

The main symptoms of a stroke can be remembered using the word FAST, which stands for Face-Arms-Speech-Time.

  • Face  the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have drooped
  • Arms  the person with suspected stroke may not be able to lift one or both arms and keep them there because of arm weakness or numbness
  • Speech  the person’s speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all, despite appearing to be awake
  • Time  it's time to dial 999 immediately if you notice any of these signs or symptoms

A stroke can be treated using medication to dissolve the blood clot, and surgery to unblock the carotid artery.

Stress, anxiety and depression

Living with a condition such as angina can cause feelings of stress and anxiety in some people, which can lead to symptoms of depression. You may be feeling depressed if, during the last month:

  • you have often felt down, depressed or hopeless
  • you have little interest or pleasure in doing things

It's important to speak to your GP if you think you're depressed. Depression doesn't only affect your mental health, it can also have an adverse affect on your physical health as well.

Treatments for depression include antidepressant medications and a type of talking therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Page last reviewed: 29/04/2015

Next review due: 29/04/2017