Angina is a condition in which there is pain and discomfort often described as pressure, squeezing, burning or tightness in the chest region. This pain is described and recommendations for treatment are made by The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. They provide the following information about angina:
This pain can radiate to the shoulders, both arms, neck, jaw, throat, and back. It could feel like indigestion. There may be other symptoms associated with angina such as lightheadedness, clammy cold skin or sweating, nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath, even weakness.
Angina that is not relieved by medication for angina or rest may be a sign of an impending heart attack and emergency medical treatment should be sought.
There are several kinds of chest pain. Stable chest pain usually is short lasting, subsides with rest or medication, and may spread to arms, back, or other areas.
Unstable angina is considered more serious, may come on while resting or with little exertion, is more severe and lasts longer than stable angina.
Another type of angina is variant angina which usually occurs at rest, during the night or early morning hours, tends to be severe, and is usually relieved by medication.
The last type of angina is microvascular angina and may be more severe and last longer than the other types of angina. Shortness of breath, sleep problems, fatique and lack of energy may accompany this type. It is often first noticed during routine activities and times of mental effort.
Angina usually is a symptom of coronary heart disease although there are other conditions that bring on angina as well. Such things as smoking, high blood pressure, high amounts of cholesterol in the blood, and high sugar levels as in diabetes may cause damage to the inner layers of the coronary arteries. Plaque may build up where the arteries are damaged and this condition is known as atherosclerosis.
Plaque may be hard and stable thus narrowing the artery in which it is contained, and reducing blood flow in that area. Other plaque is soft and more likely to rupture or break away and cause a moving blood clot, which is dangerous. Clots can partially or totally obstruct the coronary arteries and cause angina or a heart attack.
Risk factors include smoking, unhealthy cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome. Also lack of physical exercise, unhealthy diet, and older age are risk factors.
Although heart attacks may occur more frequently in men, this is not the case with angina as it occurs about equally in men and women. Microvascular angina occurs more frequently in women. Most of the time this is an issue around the time of menopause. Unstable angina occurs most often in older adults. Variant angina is rare and occurs most often at a younger age than those who have other types of angina.
Treatment for angina includes lifestyle changes, medicines, medical procedures, sometimes cardiac rehab, and other therapies. The main goal of treatment is to reduce or minimize the pain or eliminate it altogether, and prevent a heart attack.
Lifestyle changes in the treatment of angina are much akin to those recommended to prevent angina and heart disease in the first place. They include the following:
- Quit smoking and avoid second hand smoke
- Get cholesterol levels under control
- Follow a healthy diet
- Be on an exercise program, avoid sedentary living
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid triggers that set off an attack of angina
- Handle stress and find ways to relax
- Cooperate in a medication regimen
Related conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, high blood sugar levels, and obesity must be treated adequately.
If you have angina do not delay a visit to your doctor or if you have an episode that does not stop after a bit of rest, go immediately to your emergency room.