What is Angina? Angina is chest pain due to a reduced flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. Angina is not a disease in and of itself, but is a symptom of an underlying heart problem, usually coronary artery disease. Angina is commonly characterized as a painful pressure, squeezing or burning feeling in the chest and is often mistaken for indigestion. Pain can also occur in the neck, shoulders, jaw, arms, back or throat.
There are two main types of angina, stable and unstable. Stable angina is the most common and occurs in a predictable pattern. It occurs when the heart exerts itself more than usual (running, walking up a flight of stairs, etc) and when a person is experiencing emotional distress. Stable angina usually disappears after a person rests or takes an angina medication.
Unstable angina is not as predictable as stable angina and is much more dangerous. This type of angina usually means there is a high risk of having a heart attack and should be treated immediately. Unstable angina can occur more frequently and with more severe pain than stable angina.
What causes angina?
Angina is usually a symptom of coronary artery disease, which is a result of plaque building up in the inner walls of the coronary arteries that carry blood to the heart. When plaque build-up becomes too thick it reduces blood flow through the arteries. This lack of proper blood flow causes chest pain known as angina.
Common treatments for angina:
Treatments for angina may vary depending on type and severity of pain. Sometimes simple lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise can be enough to reduce symptoms of angina. There are a number of medications that can be used to treat angina if lifestyle changes alone don’t help. Aspirin may be used to reduce blood clots and help blood flow easier.
Nitrates are a common treatment for angina because they relax and widen blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow to the heart. Nitroglycerin tablets are a common form of nitrate that can be taken before or after physical exertion, or any other activity that triggers angina. They may also be used on a daily basis as a long-term preventative. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors can help relax blood vessels and prevent them from narrowing, making blood flow through the arteries easier.
For unstable angina or stable angina that does not respond well to lifestyle change and medication, a procedure known as an angioplasty can help. During an angioplasty, a narrowed artery is widened by a balloon that is inserted into the artery and inflated, then a stent is inserted to keep the artery open. With improved blood flow to the heart muscle, angina can be greatly reduced and even eliminated altogether. Coronary artery bypass surgery is another option for unstable and severe stable angina, wherein an artery or vein from another part of the body is used to bypass a narrow or blocked heart artery. This can also lead to reduced or eliminated angina.