Chest Pain (Angina): After Your Visit

Your Care Instructions

You have had a type of chest pain called angina. You did not have a heart attack. You had angina because, for a short time, your heart was not getting enough blood. This is caused by coronary artery disease (CAD), which occurs when the major blood vessels to the heart become narrow or blocked. CAD increases your risk for a heart attack.

Now is a good time to take steps to reduce your risk of heart attack. These instructions will help get you started.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It’s also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Lifestyle changes

  • Do not smoke. People with heart disease who smoke have a much greater chance of dying from a heart attack than those who do not smoke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet that is low in cholesterol, saturated fat, and salt, and is high in fiber. Eat at least 2 servings of fish a week. You may get more details about how to eat healthy, but these tips can help you get started.
  • Talk to your doctor about when you can have sex again. Do not take Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis if you are taking nitroglycerin.


  • If your doctor has given you nitroglycerin, keep it with you at all times. If you have chest pain, sit down and rest, and take the first dose of nitroglycerin as directed. If chest pain gets worse or is not getting better within 5 minutes, call 911 immediately. After calling 911, continue to stay on the phone with the emergency operator. He or she will give you further instructions.
  • If your doctor advises it, take 1 low-dose aspirin a day to prevent heart attack. Talk to your doctor if you have other health problems that might keep you from taking aspirin.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.


  • If your doctor recommends it, get more exercise. Walking is a good choice. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk every day. Try for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. You also may want to swim, bike, or do other activities.
  • If an activity causes angina, slow down, and talk to your doctor before you exercise again. Ease into activities in the morning. After meals, rest, or do only light exercise.
  • If your doctor has not set you up with a cardiac rehabilitation program, talk to him or her about whether that is right for you. Cardiac rehab includes supervised exercise, help with diet and lifestyle changes, and emotional support. It may reduce your risk of future heart problems.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have been diagnosed with angina, and you have chest pain that does not go away with rest or is not getting better within 5 minutes after you take a dose of nitroglycerin.
  • You have chest pain or pressure. This may occur with:
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain that spreads from the chest to the neck, jaw, or one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
    • A fast or uneven pulse.

After calling 911, chew 1 adult-strength aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are having chest pain more often than usual, even if it goes away when you rest or take nitroglycerin.
  • You feel dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.