What is angina?
Before we delve deeper, let's first understand what angina actually is. Angina is not a disease, but rather a symptom of an underlying heart condition. It is characterized by chest pain or discomfort due to reduced blood flow to the heart muscles. This can occur when the coronary arteries, responsible for carrying oxygen-rich blood to the heart, become narrowed or blocked.
Angina (also known as chest pain, constriction, tightness in the chest) is derived from Latin and translates as "tight chest." It feels like an oppressive, heavy, crushing, or a constricting feeling in the center of the chest behind the breast bone (sternum) or on the left side of the front of the chest. The tightness may increase during times of emotional stress, after eating, or exercise. The pain can radiate out to either one or both arms, more often the left. It can be experienced in the throat, jaw, the stomach and, more rarely, between the shoulder blades.
There are different types of angina, each with its own unique characteristics. Stable angina, also known as exertional angina, typically occurs during physical exertion or emotional stress. Unstable angina is more unpredictable and can occur at rest or with minimal activity. Lastly, variant angina, also called Prinzmetal's angina, is caused by a spasm in the coronary arteries, which temporarily reduces blood flow to the heart.
Causes and risk factors for angina can vary, but common culprits include atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in the arteries), coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, stress, and obesity. Understanding these causes can help us better identify and manage this condition.
Identifying Angina: Key Symptoms to Watch For
Recognizing the symptoms of angina is crucial for seeking timely help and managing the condition effectively. Chest pain is the most common symptom, but the way it presents can vary between individuals.
Typically, angina pain feels like a squeezing, pressure-like discomfort or heaviness in the chest. It may radiate to the arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, or back. Unlike a heart attack, angina pain tends to last for a shorter duration, usually subsiding within a few minutes of resting or taking medication.
In some cases, angina can manifest as atypical symptoms. These include shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and anxiety. These accompanying symptoms can further help in distinguishing angina from other causes of chest pain.
It's important to note that certain triggers can provoke angina episodes. Physical exertion, emotional stress, extreme temperatures, heavy meals, and smoking are common triggers. Being aware of these triggers can help you avoid potential flare-ups and manage your condition better.
What causes angina?
Cardiac ischemia—insufficient blood flow to heart tissue—and angina can be caused by the following: blocked artery, aortic valve disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, microvascular constriction, pulmonary hypertension, or coronary artery spasm. Atherosclerosis is the build-up of cholesterol deposits (plaques) in the wall of an artery. If the surface of a plaque ruptures, a blood clot (thrombus) may form on top of it and create a larger blockage. If the clot grows large enough, it can completely obstruct the artery. A 70% or greater blockage can deprive the heart of the volume of blood needed to meet an increased demand and can cause angina.
Lifestyle changes play a significant role in managing angina. Adopting a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins while minimizing saturated and trans fats is crucial. Regular exercise, as recommended by your healthcare provider, can help improve heart health and overall well-being. Quitting smoking is vital, as smoking damages the blood vessels and worsens angina symptoms. Stress management techniques, such as relaxation exercises, meditation, and counseling, can also aid in reducing the occurrence and severity of angina episodes.
In addition to lifestyle modifications, your doctor may prescribe medications to alleviate angina symptoms and improve heart function. Nitroglycerin, a common medication, helps relax and widen the blood vessels, reducing chest pain. Beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers are useful in controlling blood pressure and reducing the workload on the heart. Statins, which lower cholesterol levels, and antiplatelet drugs to prevent blood clotting may also be prescribed.
In more severe cases, invasive procedures may be necessary. Angioplasty involves inserting a catheter to open blocked arteries and placing a stent to keep them open. In more complex situations, coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) may be performed to bypass the blocked arteries using blood vessels from other parts of the body.
Regardless of the treatment approach, regular follow-ups with your healthcare provider are crucial. Monitoring symptom progression, medication effectiveness, and making any necessary adjustments are vital to maintain optimal heart health.
What are some risk factors for angina?
The following might put you at risk for developing angina or a similar condition:
• diets high in refined carbohydrates
• lack of exercise
• insufficient zinc, magnesium and vitamins A and E in the diet
• diet high in hydrogenated fat
• high blood pressure
Angina may be a silent struggle, but with awareness and proper care, you can take control of your heart health. Understanding the warning signs, seeking medical help for an accurate diagnosis, making lifestyle modifications, and adhering to your treatment plan are all essential steps in managing angina effectively.
Remember, your heart deserves the utmost care. Stay informed, stay proactive, and together, let us lead a heart-healthy life!
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