What is angina?
Angina (or angina pectoris) is a recurring
feeling of heaviness, pain or discomfort in the chest, which occurs when the
heart isn’t getting enough oxygen. This pain can sometimes spread to other
areas between the belly button and the jaw, such as the arms.
What causes angina?
Angina is usually caused by atherosclerosis (a narrowing of the arteries which supply blood to the heart).
The heart is responsible for pumping blood
around the entire body, however it also needs its own blood supply. It gets
this blood supply through the coronary arteries. If these arteries become
narrow, the heart can’t get enough blood (and therefore oxygen) during exercise
or exertion, such as running for a bus. Angina is like a warning system telling
a person to stop what they are doing as the heart is not getting enough oxygen
and therefore cannot cope.
Any condition which causes the heart to
need more blood, or which reduces the blood supply, can also cause angina.
Examples of this include high blood pressure and anaemia.
Angina can also be triggered by stress,
extreme cold and heavy meals.
What are the symptoms of angina?
Symptoms may include:
- A heavy or constricting feeling in the
chest. This pain or discomfort can spread anywhere between the belly button and
the jaw, including to the shoulder, arm, elbow or hand (usually on the left side)
- The type of pain caused by angina is
continuous, not stabbing
- Breathlessness, especially following
- Nausea or dizziness.
In most cases, these symptoms occur due to
some sort of exertion or psychological stress. If you suffer from angina you
may find it gets worse during cold weather.
Can a person get angina when they are at
Yes. While angina is normally associated
with some sort of exercise or exertion, there is a form of it that occurs
almost always when a person is at rest. It is called variant angina pectoris,
or Prinzmetal’s angina. This type of angina can be extremely painful for the
Some people may also experience ‘unstable
angina’ – which means that pain may occur following only a small amount of
physical effort or at rest – and symptoms tend to be more severe.
Does an angina attack always follow the
It depends what type of angina you have. With
stable angina (the most common form), there is a specific pattern. The angina
usually comes on after over-exertion or extreme psychological stress, and the
symptoms usually disappear after a few minutes of rest.
With unstable angina, there is no specific
pattern. It can occur during times of rest, as well as times of over-exertion
and can last 20 minutes or more. Unstable angina is caused by a narrowing of
the arteries over a very short period. It is a very serious condition.
What should I do if I suspect I have
Go to your doctor immediately for advice
and treatment. Do not ignore the symptoms as they are probably indicating
something more serious that needs immediate attention. Angina can be a warning
sign that you are at increased risk of having a heart attack.
How is angina treated?
Your doctor will conduct a thorough
examination, including checking your blood pressure, listening to your heart
and chest and checking other physical signs. Other tests may also be advised,
such as an electrocardiogram (ECG) at rest and following exercise.
Your doctor may give you a spray or tablets
of glyceryl trinitrate (GTN), which is very effective at giving rapid relief from
the pain associated with angina. You may also be prescribed other medication to
help prevent angina over the long-term. These may include beta-blockers,
nitrates or calcium-channel blockers. Surgery may sometimes be recommended for
How can I prevent angina?
Since angina is usually caused by atherosclerosis,
reducing your risk factors associated with this will help to prevent angina.
The risk factors associated with atherosclerosis
are high blood pressure, a high cholesterol level, smoking, obesity, stress and
lack of exercise. By eliminating these risk factors, you will greatly lower the
chances of getting atherosclerosis or angina. These measures will also help if
you already have angina.
Try to eat healthily and avoid saturated
fats. Give up smoking. Take regular exercise. If you are overweight or obese,
try to lose weight.