If you have been experiencing chest pain that occurs when exercising and relents when you rest, or it lasts 5 minutes or less, you may have angina pectoris. For any sort of chest pain, you should seek medical attention right away. If you are diagnosed with angina, this is what you should know.
Cause of the Pain
Angina is caused by either blockages or spasms of the arteries that supply blood flow to the heart muscle, and this results in ischemia or lack of oxygen being provided to the heart muscle cells. The blockages or narrowing of the coronary arteries are caused by fatty plaque buildup inside the artery walls, and this is called atherosclerosis.
The fatty plaque consists of white blood cells (WBCs), cholesterol, and triglycerides. The presence of the WBCs indicates inflammation, and eventually the plaque also collects calcium and other crystals and hardens. You can go for years without symptoms until the arteries become so narrow that the blood flow is restricted.
Stable, Unstable Angina, and Heart Attack
If you have pain that goes away when you rest, or just lasts a few minutes, you have stable angina. If the pain and other symptoms have started lasting longer than 15 minutes and don't stop with rest, you have unstable angina. Unstable angina indicates blood clots are forming from bits of plaque breaking off the arterial walls, and the clots are cutting off blood flow in the coronary arteries.
A heart attack occurs when the lack of oxygen starts causing permanent damage to areas of the heart muscle, and this impedes the heart's ability to contract normally.
Angina symptoms can include:
- Mild pain or chest pressure
- A burning sensation in the chest
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Pain in the back, around the neck, or shoulders
- Breathlessness, nausea, or sweating
The symptoms often come on when you are exerting yourself physically or you are under emotional stress.
To diagnose angina a doctor will order regular ECG (electrocardiogram). Then, you will be scheduled to take an exercise ECG test, which involves monitoring your heart while you use a treadmill, and will show certain characteristics in your heart rhythm that may indicate angina.
Your doctor may prescribe nitroglycerin, which is a vasodilator (makes your blood vessels expand). You put a little pill under your tongue to dissolve if you are having pain, and it will relieve the pain. If it does not after ten minutes, you can take another one. If the pain does not subside after the second pill, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Beta blockers or calcium channel blockers may be prescribed instead of nitroglycerin, and they serve to dilate the blood vessels also. Other medications often used for angina include statins to control cholesterol, and low-dose aspirin therapy for severe cases.
Surgical treatments for severe angina can include:
- Balloon angioplasty – a catheter is inserted into a coronary artery and a balloon at the end of it is inflated to widen the artery where it is constricted.
- Stents – these may be added with the angioplasty to keep the artery open.
- Coronary bypass surgery – a heart surgeon will graft veins taken from another part of the body and graft them to bypass constricted or blocked arteries to restore blood flow.
Angina Pectoris is a serious condition that warrants certain lifestyle changes. Your doctor will want you to begin a mild, but regular exercise program, and also limit fats and simple carbohydrates in your diet. If you are overweight, you should lose some weight to lower the burden on your heart, and if you smoke, you will need to quit. Contact a company like Better Family Care Practice for more information.