It feels like a squeezing, pressing pain in your chest. You can sometimes
feel it in your arm, jaw, shoulder, back or neck. It usually lasts only
a few minutes and is generally relieved by medication or rest. This is
angina, a warning sign of heart disease. If left untreated, it can lead
to heart attack or even death.
What causes angina?
Angina is chest pain due to your heart not getting get enough oxygen-rich
blood, which it needs to keep pumping. This is because of narrowed arteries
in the heart. You may feel it during certain activities such as exercise,
or when you are upset. Extreme temperatures, overeating, alcohol and smoking
can bring on this condition. Nausea, lightheadedness and sweating may
also occur. Sufferers have a higher chance of heart attack.
What is the difference between angina and a heart attack?
With both a heart attack and angina, part of your heart muscle is not getting
enough oxygen because of reduced blood flow in the arteries. With angina,
there is no permanent heart damage. But during a heart attack, the lack
of oxygen lasts longer and damages the heart.
Stable and unstable angina
The most common forms of angina are stable and unstable angina. If the
pain happens during certain activities, it’s called stable angina.
But if chest pain doesn’t occur because of a specific reason, becomes
more severe or frequent, or lasts longer, the problem is unstable angina.
Unstable angina can happen while resting.
Lifestyle changes can help with angina
- Lifestyle choices can decrease chest pain and reduce your heart risks.
Within weeks, you could feel better. Doctors recommend the following:
- No smoking
- Control high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a low-fat diet
- Avoid certain foods if they trigger chest pain
- Keep alcohol intake to a minimum
- Stress management
- Appropriate exercise on an individual basis
- Cardiac rehabilitation aimed at improving heart health through exercise
What can I do for the pain caused by angina?
- Prescription medicines can help improve blood flow. Nitroglycerin is one
type of medication that widens the blood vessels and helps the heart manage
blood flow. Beta blockers that lower heart rate and calcium channel blockers
that increase blood flow can also be used.
- Taking an aspirin daily can help reduce the pain.
What can be done for severe angina?
If you develop severe angina or are at high risk for a heart attack, you
may require one of the following procedures:
- Angioplasty: which opens up arteries to improve blood flow and ease chest
- Bypass surgery: a blood vessel is grafted onto a blocked artery to bypass
the blocked section and increase blood flow to the heart.
- Transmyocardial revascularization (TMR): for people who aren’t candidates
for angioplasty or bypass surgery, the procedure involves using a laser
to create tiny holes in the heart, which relieves chest pain.
Tell your doctor about any chest pain. If it’s severe, or the pain
persists, call 911.
To learn about Saint Francis Hospital's Cardiovascular Services, please