Angina and Heart Attack

Angina occurs when coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood become narrowed and cannot carry sufficient blood to the heart and around the body. Most cases of angina are brought about by atherosclerosis, which is where arteries are narrowed due to a build up of fatty deposits and plaque, reducing blood supply.

heart attack occurs when there is an obstruction of the blood supply to part of the heart muscle. There is usually a complete lack of blood supply which can lead to the heart ceasing from beating. Aspirin, a blood thinner, can be used to try to restrict the size of the clot.

As the heart becomes deprived of oxygen and other nutrients carried by the blood, muscle contraction slows down or stops, which can lead to death.

First aiders are trained to treat angina as a heart attack if they are unable to differentiate between the two.

Recognition of angina:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Vice like central pain
  • Tiredness
  • Anxiety
  • Pain that eases with rest

Recognition of heart attack:

  • Persistent vice like central chest pain, which spreads to jaw or arms.
  • Breathlessness
  • Discomfort, like indigestion
  • Faintness/dizziness
  • Sense of impending doom.
  • Ashen skin, blue lips
  • Rapid, weak or irregular pulse
  • Profuse sweating

In first aid, you would usually attempt to treat these symptoms as a heart attack, so after calling an ambulance, easing stress and comforting the casualty is vital. Typically, the casualty would be asked to sit in a W shape, they can be further supported by blankets and pillows. In some cases, the casualty may carry aspirin with them or angina medication, so these would be administered. With most cases of first aid it is vital to record and monitor vital signs as they aid diagnosis and paramedics.

Typically, causes include poor diet which leads to obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol. Those who have suffered an attack usually attempt to live a healthier lifestyle to prevent it from occurring again and many spend their lives taking a variety of medications.


St John First Aid Manual, 10th Edition.


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