Angina refers to chest discomfort, tightness, or pain that occurs due to a reduction in blood supply to the muscles of the heart. People commonly confuse this chest pain and discomfort with indigestion. Angina can cause an individual's chest to feel heavy, achey, tight, in addition to a burning sensation. This pain can then spread to the shoulders, arms, and back as well. Angina is not a disease; however, it is a manifestation of an underlying condition called coronary artery disease. Anyone who has been diagnosed with heart disease should immediately take action if symptoms occur or worsen, as it may lead to heart failure.
Angina is caused by a reduction in blood flow to the heart muscles, which affects the heart's supply of oxygen. Moreover, it can ultimately effect the nutrients that the heart needs. Blood supply can be blocked by the aggregation of cholesterol on the walls of the arteries, resulting in the formation of hardened plaques. These plaques narrow the arterial passage and limit blood flow. The muscles of the heart then try to obtain energy through alternative processes that lead to the accumulation of lactic acid. It is this build up that causes pain or discomfort, the characteristic feeling of angina. Risk of angina increases by certain factors like:
- High cholesterol levels
- Metabolic syndrome
- Family history of heart disease
- High blood pressure
There are different types of angina:
- Stable angina – This occurs from physical or emotional stress, and returns to normal with rest. It lasts for a short amount of time.
- Unstable angina – This occurs during rest periods and increases during physical activity. It can last for a long period of time.
- Prinzmetal’s angina – This occurs due to a spasm of the arteries to the heart, and happens during rest periods and cold weather conditions. Prinzmetal's angina is considered severe compared to stable and unstable angina.
Treatment of this condition varies depending on the underlying causes and damages to the heart. Appropriate lifestyle changes and medications are used to control mild cases of angina. Lifestyle changes include healthy diets, regular physical activity, quitting smoking, regulating blood pressure, and diabetes. Medications that are used include beta-blockers, nitrates, and calcium channel blockers. Angioplasty, stenting, and bypass surgery may be recommended for those who have serious angina.
If you experience any long-lasting chest pain, seek medical attention immediately. If you have been prescribed medications to manage your angina, take the recommended daily dose. If symptoms still persist, contact your doctor.