Angina (Chest Pain) : Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
Chest pain is a common symptom that can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from minor issues to life-threatening conditions. Angina, which means “squeezing” or “tightness” in the chest, is a type of chest pain that is one of the most common symptoms of heart disease. It is caused by a reduced blood flow to the heart muscle, which can result in angina pain, a feeling of pressure or tightness in the chest, along with other symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and sweating.
In this article, we will explore what is angina, the different types of angina, the causes and risk factors that can lead to this condition, and the various treatments available to manage angina pain and reduce the risk of complications. We will also discuss the importance of seeking medical attention if you experience any symptoms of chest pain or discomfort, as prompt treatment can help prevent more serious health problems. Whether you are experiencing chest pain or are simply interested in learning more about this condition, this article will provide valuable insights and information to help you understand and manage angina effectively.
What is Angina?
Angina is a medical condition that causes chest pain or discomfort due to reduced blood flow to the heart. It is often associated with underlying heart disease, and can be a warning sign of more serious conditions such as heart attack or stroke. The chest pain or discomfort experienced by those with angina can be described as pressure, squeezing, or tightness in the chest that may also be felt in the arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, or back. Shortness of breath, fatigue, and nausea may also be present.
Angina occurs when the coronary arteries that supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients become narrowed or blocked by plaque buildup, reducing blood flow to the heart muscle. This can be caused by a range of factors including atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, and a sedentary lifestyle. Certain medications and medical conditions may also contribute to the development of angina.
What does Angina’s pain feel like?
The pain or discomfort experienced by those with angina can be described as pressure, squeezing, or tightness in the chest that may also be felt in the arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, or back. Some people may also experience shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, or dizziness.
The pain or discomfort associated with angina is often triggered by physical exertion or emotional stress, and typically lasts for a few minutes before subsiding. Resting or taking medication such as nitroglycerin can help relieve the symptoms of angina.
Types of Chest Pain
Angina is a type of chest pain that occurs when the heart doesn’t receive enough blood and oxygen. There are different types of angina, which are categorised based on their causes, symptoms, and treatments. The three main types of angina are:
- Stable angina: This is the most common type of angina, and it occurs when the heart is working harder than usual, such as during exercise, emotional stress, or after a heavy meal. Stable angina causes chest pain or discomfort that typically lasts a few minutes and goes away with rest or medication. It is called “stable” because the pattern of symptoms is predictable and doesn’t change over time.
- Unstable angina: This is a more serious type of angina that occurs when the heart is not getting enough blood and oxygen even at rest, and the symptoms are more severe and unpredictable. Unstable angina can be a sign of an impending heart attack and requires immediate medical attention. The pain may be more intense and last longer than stable angina, and may not be relieved by rest or medication.
- Variant angina (Prinzmetal’s angina): This type of angina is caused by a spasm in the coronary artery, which temporarily narrows the artery and reduces blood flow to the heart. Variant angina can occur at rest, often in the middle of the night, and can cause severe chest pain that may last for up to 30 minutes. Unlike stable and unstable angina, variant angina is not usually triggered by physical or emotional stress and may respond better to medications that relax the arteries.
Other less common types of angina include:
- Microvascular angina: This occurs when the tiny blood vessels that supply the heart become damaged or constricted, leading to chest pain and other symptoms. Microvascular angina can be difficult to diagnose and may require special tests such as a coronary angiogram or a stress echocardiogram.
- Silent angina: This is a type of angina that doesn’t cause any symptoms, or causes symptoms that are mild and they may be ignored or attributed to other causes. Silent angina is more common in people with diabetes, who may have nerve damage that reduces their ability to feel pain.
Causes of Angina
Some of the common causes of angina include:
- Coronary Artery Disease: This is the most common cause of angina. Coronary artery disease occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrow or blocked due to a buildup of plaque or fatty deposits. This can restrict blood flow to the heart muscle, leading to angina.
- Coronary Microvascular Disease: Coronary microvascular disease is a condition in which the small arteries in the heart become narrowed or damaged, leading to reduced blood flow to the heart muscle. This can cause angina, particularly in women.
- Spasm of the Coronary Arteries: In some cases, the coronary arteries can cause spasm or tightening, reducing blood flow to the heart and causing angina. This type of angina is known as a variant or Prinzmetal’s angina.
How is Angina treated?
The primary goal of angina treatment is to relieve symptoms, prevent complications, and improve the patient’s quality of life. Treatment options for angina include medication, lifestyle changes, and medical procedures.
Medications are commonly used to treat angina. They work by dilating the blood vessels, reducing the workload of the heart, and improving blood flow to the heart. Nitroglycerin is a common medication used to treat angina. Beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and long-acting nitrates are other medications used to treat angina. However, there are high risks of skipping medications. So, it is advised to be diligent in following the medical procedures that doctors suggest.
Lifestyle changes are also an essential part of angina treatment. Below-mentioned are a few of the steps to prevent heart attack or angina:
- Quitting smoking: Effects of smoking are a significant risk factor for angina and heart disease. Quitting smoking can reduce the risk of complications and improve overall health.
- Eating a healthy diet: A diet low in saturated and trans fats, salt, and added sugars can reduce the risk of heart disease and improve overall health.
- Regular exercise: Regular exercise can improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Managing stress: Stress can trigger angina symptoms. Therefore, it is essential to through relaxation techniques, exercise, and other stress-reducing activities.
Medical procedures may also be necessary to treat angina. These include:
- Angioplasty and Stenting: This procedure involves the insertion of a small balloon into the narrowed artery. The balloon is then inflated, which pushes the plaque against the artery wall, widening the artery, and improving blood flow. A stent is often placed to keep the artery open.
- Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG): This is a surgical procedure in which the surgeon creates a new path for blood flow by using a blood vessel from another part of the body to bypass the blocked artery.
It’s important to understand that angina is not just an ordinary chest pain but a serious condition that can lead to severe complications if left untreated. Therefore, if you are experiencing symptoms of angina, it is essential to seek immediate medical attention to determine the underlying cause and receive proper treatment.
Remember, managing angina is a team effort between you and your healthcare provider. By following a treatment plan that includes medication, lifestyle changes, and medical procedures if necessary, you can reduce your symptoms, improve your overall health, and prevent future complications.
At BPInControl, we are committed to helping you take control of your health. Visit our “Find a Physician” page to locate a physician in your area who can help you manage your angina symptoms and improve your quality of life. Don’t wait – take action today and start living a healthier life!
FAQ on Angina
1) What are the first signs of angina?
The first signs of angina typically include chest pain or discomfort, pressure, tightness, or squeezing sensation in the chest. The pain may also be felt in the arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, or back.
2) Is angina life-threatening?
Angina is a serious medical condition, but it is not typically life-threatening on its own. However, it can be a warning sign of underlying heart disease, which can lead to heart attack and other life-threatening conditions if left untreated.
3) Does angina show on ECG?
Angina can show up on an electrocardiogram (ECG) in the form of ST segment depression or T wave inversion. An ECG can also be used to diagnose other heart conditions that may be causing symptoms similar to angina.
4) Is angina caused by stress?
Stress can be a trigger for angina in some people, but it is not the only cause. Other factors that can contribute to angina include physical exertion, cold temperatures, heavy meals, and smoking.
5) Where is angina pain located?
Angina pain is typically located in the chest, but it can also be felt in the arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, or back. The pain may be described as a pressure, tightness, or squeezing sensation, and it may be accompanied by shortness of breath, nausea, or lightheadedness.