Angina Pectoris


Heart disease is a common word that everybody is familiar with but the word angina might sound new to most of you. Angina literally means squeezing of the chest in Latin; it is the pain or discomfort that is felt in the chest region, when your heart receives insufficient oxygen rich blood. Angina is not a disease but a significant symptom of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) that should not be taken lightly. During angina the pain is felt in the arms, shoulders, back, neck and in the jaws along with severe pain in the chest region.

Causes of Coronary Heart Disease

CHD is very common in adults. To know why some people, not all, suffer from CHD you need to know that coronary artery is the one that supplies oxygen rich blood to the heart. In some people, this artery is blocked or narrowed by deposition of fat, cholesterol or other substance on the inner walls of the coronary artery. This deposition is called plaque. Plaque narrows and stiffens your coronary artery and minimizes the flow of blood to the heart causing angina and CHD. Sometimes, the plaque ruptures and forms a blood clot in the artery blocking the complete supply of blood to heart, resulting in heart attack.

Angina and other chest pain

Pain in the chest region is caused due to many reasons like chest pain, indigestion, heart burn, anxiety, heart attack or myocardial infarction but how sure are you that the pain you are experiencing is not angina but normal pain caused due to various other reasons. There are few ways to differentiate the pain caused by angina from others.

Angina is a tight or heavy feeling in the chest and is associated with sweating and difficulty to catch your breath. Angina troubles you when you are walking, exercising, cleaning or climbing stairs. It may feel like pressure, squeezing or burning in the chest; it can also cause pain in your arms, shoulders, neck, back and jaws. Numbness or tingling in the arms, shoulder and wrist, and sometimes stomach discomfort may also be present.

These signs and symptoms of angina might vary depending on the type of angina you are suffering from. Angina can be of two types. A stable angina is one when you experience mild pain with certain level of activity, that fades away after a short rest or medicines. On the other hand, sudden pain that occurs while you are resting or sleeping or doing very mild work is called as unstable angina. Unstable angina occurs suddenly and is more severe and lasts for a long time. This cannot be comforted by rest or medicines. It usually gets worse and ultimately results in heart attack. Therefore, it is very important that you contact emergency services immediately.

Tests performed to confirm angina

Your doctor might perform few of these tests to check whether you actually suffered from angina pain.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): A simple ECG can help to detect damage in the arteries or heart. If ECG is recorded during angina, then the underlying heart problem can also be detected. Your doctor might also perform a stress ECG where ECG will be recorded while you walk on a treadmill. This will help to check the way your heart reacts to activities.
  • X-ray: X-ray pictures of your chest region before and after exercise will help to detect if enough blood is pumped to all regions of heart. If not, then it means that the arteries supplying blood to your heart is blocked.
  • Cardiac catheterization: This test helps to detect any blockage in the arteries that supply blood to heart.
  • Coronary angiogram: This uses dye and X-ray to check the inner walls of coronary arteries.
  • Blood test: Blood test shows the level of fat, cholesterol, protein, and glucose in blood. Abnormal levels of these, increases the risk of CHD.

Preventing heart disease

Heart disease can be prevented or atleast the risks can be lowered by bringing on few lifestyle changes. Choose healthy life style habits like – no smoking, healthy diet, regular physical activities, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress and taking proper medicines. Another very important way to prevent heart disease is to treat the related conditions like high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Take necessary advice from your health care provider and learn how to control them.

Treating heart disease

Angina treatment includes major lifestyle changes, medications, and medical procedures.

Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, doing regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding large meals and managing stress can help you stay healthy.

Medicines are an important part of treatment of angina. Nitrates such as nitroglycerin are used to widen the arteries and help in easy flow of blood to the heart. Other probable medicines are statins, beta-blockers, ACE-inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, aspirin, oral anti-platelet medicines, and anti-coagulant. These medicines help to control blood pressure and blood cholesterol level, slow the heart beat, widen blood vessels, and prevent blood clot formation.

Surgical procedures such as angioplasty and coronary artery bypass grafting are commonly performed surgeries for heart disease. Angioplasty cleans up the blocked artery and helps in easy flow of blood in the heart where as coronary artery bypass grafting is a procedure that takes healthy arteries from other regions of the body and is grafted as bypass to your narrowed artery.

Risks involved in heart disease treatment

No surgical procedures or medicines are free from side-effects. Aspirin used to prevent heart attack sometimes causes stomach upset. Nitrates results in redness in face and headache. Tiredness and sexual problems are common side effects of beta blockers. Calcium channel blockers results in constipation and swelling of legs. Fortunately, these side-effects are very rare. Surgical procedures involve risks such as heart attack, stroke or even death in very rare cases. In some patients the blockages starts developing after angioplasty.