Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences
What Is Angina?
Angina pectoris, or simply angina, is chest pain that occurs when the heart isn't getting enough oxygenated blood. It's usually a symptom of coronary artery disease. The heart is a muscle that needs oxygen to function properly, and blood is responsible for carrying and delivering oxygen around the body. When the heart doesn't get enough blood, it doesn't get enough oxygen, and the resulting pain is the body's way of alerting there's a problem. Angina is not a heart attack but it does put the person at risk of having one.
Causes of Angina
What prevents the heart from getting adequate blood? The most common cause is a blockage somewhere in the coronary arteries, the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Arteries can narrow due to plaque deposits, and angina may be especially prevalent during physical exertion due to the heart's increased demand for oxygen. It may also occur if the coronary arteries are inflamed, infected, or injured.
A person is at higher risk of developing angina if they have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a history of heart disease, or a sedentary lifestyle. Other risk factors include smoking, obesity, age, and stress.
Stable angina is characterized by regular episodes of pain triggered by physical exercise or activity, smoking, eating large meals, or extreme temperatures. This occurs because the arteries have accumulated deposits, narrowing the pathway for blood to move through.
Unstable angina is characterized by sudden pain that doesn't go away on its own or respond to rest or medication. This type is caused by a blood clot that blocks the blood vessel, and it will cause a heart attack if the blockage isn't removed.
Variant angina is caused by a spasm in a coronary artery, causing it to temporarily narrow. This is a specific form of unstable angina that can occur at any time. No trigger event causes it to happen.
Symptoms of Angina
The most prominent symptom of angina is pain or pressure in the chest. It may feel like squeezing or a fullness in the middle of the chest, and it can radiate outward to the neck, jaw, shoulder, back, or arms.
With stable angina, episodes of pain are a regular occurrence and become predictable as triggers are identified. It normally lasts less than five minutes and goes away with rest and/or medication.
With unstable angina, the pain is different from that experienced with stable angina and is not predictable. It is sharper, unexpected (no trigger has been identified), and doesn't go away with rest or medication.
Variant angina causes sharp bursts of pain, often in the middle of the night. They can last up to 30 minutes but may respond to medication.
Other symptoms can include numbness or tingling, anxiety, fainting, dizziness, sweating, shortness of breath, pale skin, irregular heartbeat, nausea, or fatigue.
Diagnosing and Treating Angina
If someone is experiencing angina, typically they will visit a cardiologist, a doctor that specializes in problems with the heart. One procedure used to look for problems with the coronary arteries is an angiography. This is a special type of X-ray that shows how blood moves to the heart, and it can be used to find blockages. A cardiac catheter may be used too. In this procedure, a small tube with a camera is fed up through the arteries to the heart to look for plaque deposits and narrowing.
Once the cause is identified, there are a number of possible treatment options. First, making lifestyle changes is necessary. This includes eating a healthier diet, not smoking or drinking, and getting more exercise. Medications might also be used, and there are a number of different types that can help with angina. Nitrates, like nitroglycerine, relax the arteries, which can alleviate angina by altering blood flow. Other drugs that may be used are aspirin, clot-preventing drugs, beta blockers, statins, or calcium channel blockers.
If lifestyle changes and medication don't work, an angioplasty procedure might be necessary. With this procedure, a small balloon is inserted into the narrowed artery and inflated to hold it open. Then a small metal wire, called a stent, is inserted and left there to hold the artery open.
If the angioplasty isn't enough, a coronary artery bypass surgery (open heart surgery) might be needed. In this procedure, a blood vessel from somewhere else in the body is transferred to the heart to reroute blood around the blockage or narrowed artery. This is a major surgery and is usually performed only when no other treatments work, though the success rate is very high in otherwise healthy individuals.
Angina pectoris is chest pain that results from the heart not getting enough oxygenated blood. It's usually a symptom of coronary artery disease and is caused by narrow arteries that restrict blood flow, though it can also be caused by an infection or injury. In addition to pain, symptoms can include fatigue, sweating, shortness of breath, and weakness. Stable angina is predictable based on identified triggers, while unstable angina is sudden, usually due to a clot and can lead to a heart attack. Making lifestyle changes, particularly with diet and exercise, and taking medication might help, but if not, an angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery might be necessary.
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
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