First Aid for an Angina Attack

Chest pain called angina pectoris can result from coronary heart disease just as a heart attack does. Angina happens when the heart muscle does not get as much blood as it needs (which means a lack of oxygen).

The pain is brought on by physical exertion, exposure to cold, emotional stress, or the ingestion of food. It seldom lasts longer than 10 minutes and almost always is relieved by nitroglycerin.

A heart attack’s chest pain is as likely to happen at rest as during activity. The pain lasts longer than 10 minutes and is not completely relieved by nitroglycerin.

Nitroglycerin (GTN) is the drug most often used to dilate the heart’s coronary arteries to increase the blood supply to the heart. It also relaxes the veins to reduce the amount of blood returning to the heart, thus lessening the work of pumping.

First Aid for Angina

Determine if the victim is known to have coronary heart disease and is using nitroglycerin. If so, help the victim use it. Nitroglycerin in tablets, sprayed under the tongue, or ointment placed on the skin may relieve chest pain.

Nitroglycerin dilates the coronary arteries, which increases blood flow to the heart muscle; and it lowers the blood pressure and dilates the veins, which decreases the work of the heart and the heart muscle’s need for oxygen.

Since nitroglycerin lowers blood pressure, the victim should be sitting or lying when taking it. Nitroglycerin may normally be repeated for a total of three tablets/sprays in 10 minutes if the first dose not relieve the pain.

However, you may not know whether the victim has already taken some nitroglycerin. Also, nitroglycerin is prescribed in different strengths so that while three tablets of one strength may be a mild dose, three tablets of another strength may be a high dose. Be very cautious when giving nitroglycerin. Remember, the nitroglycerin should belong to the victim and not someone else.

When to call for help

If the pain stops within 10 minutes, suspect angina. If the pain continues for more than 10 minutes, suspect a heart attack. For more information, see our first aid guide to treating a heart attack.

John Furst

JOHN FURST is an experienced emergency medical technician and qualified first aid and CPR instructor. John is passionate about first aid and believes everyone should have the skills and confidence to take action in an emergency situation.

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