You may have heard the term “angina pectoris” (sometimes referred to as ‘stable Angina) in your doctor’s surgery, but what is it, and what could it mean for you? It’s important to understand the basics.
Angina pectoris is the medical term for chest pain or discomfort due to coronary heart disease. It occurs when the heart muscle doesn’t get as much blood as it needs. This usually happens because one or more of the heart’s arteries is narrowed or blocked, also called ischemia.
Angina usually causes uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest. You may also feel the discomfort in your neck, jaw, shoulder, back or arm. (Many types of chest discomfort — like heartburn, lung infection or inflammation — aren‘t related to angina.) Angina in women can be different than in men.
When does angina pectoris occur?
Angina often occurs when the heart muscle itself needs more blood than it is getting, for example, during times of physical activity or strong emotions. Severely narrowed arteries may allow enough blood to reach the heart when the demand for oxygen is low, such as when you’re sitting. But, with physical exertion—like walking up a hill or climbing stairs—the heart works harder and needs more oxygen.
Causes of Angina
Angina is usually caused by the arteries which supply blood to the heart becoming narrowed by a build up of fatty substances. This is called Atherosclerosis. You may be at a higher risk of atherosclerosis if you:-
* Have an unhealthy diet
* Do not exercise regularly
* Have a family history of heart problems
Increasing age can also be a factor.
Symptoms of Stable Angina
The pain or discomfort:
● Occurs when the heart must work harder, usually during physical exertion
● Doesn’t come as a surprise, and episodes of pain tend to be alike
● Usually lasts a short time (5 minutes or less)
● Is relieved by rest or medicine
● May feel like gas or indigestion
● May feel like chest pain that spreads to the arms, back, or other areas
Angina can also cause:-
* Feeling sick
* Pain in your lower chest or belly
* Feeling extremely tired
Some people can have these symptoms without any chest pain at all!
Possible triggers of stable angina include:
● Emotional stress – learn stress management
● Exposure to very hot or cold temperatures – learn how cold and hot weather affect the heart.
● Heavy meals
Treatment of Angina Pectoris
Normally this type of chest discomfort is relieved with rest, so the first thing is stop what you are doing and rest
If you have been prescribed glyceryl trinitrate (GTN) in a spray or tablet form, take it. GTN relaxes the coronary arteries and other blood vessels, reducing the amount of blood that returns to the heart and easing the heart’s workload. By relaxing the coronary arteries, it increases the heart’s blood supply.
If the symptoms continue after 5 minutes of taking GTN, take another dose. However if after another 5 minutes there is no change in the symptoms call 999.
If you haven’t yet been diagnosed, time the episode and if it lasts no longer than a few minutes make an urgent appointment with your GP.
If it continues longer than a few minutes call 999 as this could be an indication of a heart attack!
If Aspirin is available and you are not allergic to it, chew one tablet whilst waiting for the ambulance. This will help if you are having a heart attack.
If you experience chest discomfort, be sure and visit your doctor for a complete evaluation and, possibly, tests. If you have stable angina and start getting chest pain more easily and more often, see your doctor immediately as you may be experiencing early signs of unstable angina.
Living with Angina
There is no reason why you cannot have a normal life with angina if it is kept under control, and you can continue to do most of your activities as normal However, one of the most important things you will need to do is to make some healthy lifestyle changes such as:-
* Eating a balanced diet (check out our ‘Recipe’ pages for tips on healthy eating on a budget!)
* Cutting back on alcohol
* Stopping smoking
* Losing weight if you are overweight
* Exercising regularly – gentle exercise is deemed as ‘safe’
All these will help to reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes!