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Treatment - Angina

Treatment can help stop angina attacks. It can also reduce the risk of further problems like heart attacks.

Most people with angina need to take several medicines. Surgery may be recommended if medicines don't help.

It's also important to make healthy lifestyle changes to live well with angina.

Medicines for angina

Medicines to treat attacks

If you have stable angina (the most common type), you'll be given medicine to take when you have an angina attack.

This is called glyceryl trinitrate, or GTN. It comes as a mouth spray or tablets that dissolve under your tongue.

If you have an angina attack:

  1. Stop what you're doing and rest.
  2. Use your GTN medicine.
  3. Take another dose after 5 minutes if the first one doesn't help.
  4. Call 999/112 for an ambulance if you still have symptoms 5 minutes after taking the second dose.

You can also use GTN to avoid an attack before doing something like exercise. You may have a headache, flushing or dizziness soon after using it.

GTN tablets usually expire about 8 weeks after the packet is opened. You'll need to replace them after this. GTN spray lasts much longer, so may be more convenient.

Medicines to prevent angina attacks

To help avoid more attacks, you'll also need to take at least 1 other medicine every day for the rest of your life. Some people need to take 2 or more medicines.

The main medicines used to prevent angina attacks are:

  • beta-blockers – to make the heart beat slower and with less force
  • calcium channel blockers – to relax the arteries, increasing blood supply to the heart muscle

If you can't have these medicines you may be given ivabradine, nicorandil or ranolazine.

Medicines to prevent hearts attacks and strokes

Angina is a warning sign that you're at a higher risk of serious problems like heart attacks or strokes.

You may also need to take extra medicines to reduce this risk.

These include:

  • low-dose aspirin to prevent blood clots
  • statins to reduce your cholesterol (blood fats) level
  • ACE inhibitors to reduce your blood pressure

Surgery for angina

Surgery may be recommended if medicines aren't helping control your angina.

The 2 main types of surgery for angina are coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) and percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI).

Both of these operations are effective. The best one for you depends on your circumstances. Talk to your doctor or surgeon about your options.

You'll need to continue taking some medicines after surgery.

Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG)

Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) is where a section of blood vessel is taken from another part of the body. This will reroute blood around a blocked or narrow section of artery.

Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI)

Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) is where a narrowed section of artery is widened using a tiny tube called a stent.

Unstable angina

If you have unstable angina you'll need medicines to prevent blood clots. Medicines will also reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

You may be given:

  • low-dose aspirin
  • clopidogrel
  • an injection of a blood-thinning medicine soon after you're diagnosed

Surgery may be recommended if you:

  • have a high risk of having another angina attack
  • you're at a high risk of having a heart attack or stroke

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 25 March 2021
Next review due: 25 March 2024

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.