Angina is a condition characterized by chest pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart muscle doesn’t receive enough oxygen-rich blood. Angina is often a symptom of coronary artery disease, the most common form of heart disease, but it can also be caused by other conditions such as cardiomyopathy or aortic stenosis.
This condition causes pain in the shoulders, arm, neck, jaw or back. It is important to note that not all chest pain or discomfort is angina. Chest pain may be caused by other conditions like a pinched nerve. A proper diagnosis by a physician is necessary to determine the underlying cause.
There are two primary types of angina:
- Stable Angina: This type of angina occurs predictably during physical activities or emotional stress when the heart needs more oxygen and nutrients than it is receiving due to reduced blood flow.
- Unstable Angina: This is more unpredictable and can occur even at rest. It is considered more severe and is associated with an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Several risk factors increase the likelihood of developing angina. Identifying and managing these risk factors can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and angina. These symptoms include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Lack of physical activity
- Unhealthy diet high in saturated fats
- Older age
- Family history of heart problems
Symptoms of Angina
Those with angina may experience a range of symptoms. It is important to recognize these symptoms and seek medical attention. These may differ depending on the type of angina or the sex of the patient. Some common symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Nausea, or feeling sick in the stomach
- Shortness of breath
Detection and Diagnosis
Your doctor may diagnose angina based on a combination of diagnostic testing, a physical examination, and your previous medical history. These tests may help rule out other conditions and assess whether you need immediate treatment for a heart attack or stroke.
- Medical history: Your doctor will ask for a detailed medical history, including any symptoms you may be experiencing, their frequency and duration, and any other relevant risk factors or medical conditions. They will also ask about your lifestyle, family history of heart disease and the medications you are currently taking.
- Physical examination: During your physical exam, the doctor will listen to your heart and lungs, check your blood pressure and assess other physical signs of heart disease.
- Chest pain assessment: The doctor will ask about the nature of your pain, including its location, duration, triggers and alleviating factors.
- Electrocardiogram: This is a simple, noninvasive test that records the electrical activity of the heart. It can help identify abnormal heart rhythms, previous heart attacks and signs of reduced blood flow to the heart muscles.
- Exercise stress test: In this type of test, the patient walks or runs on a treadmill while connected to an electrocardiogram machine to monitor the heart’s response to exercise.
- Nuclear stress test: This involves injecting a small amount of radioactive tracer into the bloodstream. This enables doctors to visualize blood flow to the heart under stress and at rest.
Angina treatment may depend on a number of factors including symptoms, age, type of angina, test results and risk of further complications.
For stable angina, lifestyle changes such as adopting a healthy diet low in saturated fats, engaging in regular physical activity and quitting smoking can be effective in managing the condition. Regular exercise strengthens the heart muscle, increases blood flow and improves the function of tiny blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. Medication may also be prescribed to improve blood flow and reduce the risk of heart problems.
In more serious cases, a medical procedure such as angioplasty may be needed to open up narrowed or blocked blood vessels, improving blood flow to the heart muscle and alleviating symptoms. If you experience unstable angina, which is characterized by increased frequency and severity of symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. This may indicate a heart attack or stroke.
Improving your circulation through regular physical activity and consuming healthy, unsaturated fats while avoiding high saturated fat foods, such as coconut oil, can help manage angina and reduce the risk of heart disease. Always follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding treatment, rest or medication.