What is angina?
Angina, also called angina pectoris or cardiac spasms, is a condition occurring when the oxygen supply to the heart is insufficient. The arteries supply the heart with blood containing oxygen and nutrients. Angina occurs as a result of atherosclerosis, i.e. hardening of the arteries, but also other types of heart disease. The lack of oxygen-rich blood to the heart is usually a result of narrow coronary arteries due to plaque build-up, making it harder for the blood to pass through the blood vessels. The pain occurs because the supply of oxygen to the heart is reduced. In addition, angina can occur as a result of hyperthyroidism.
What are the symptoms of angina?
The symptoms of angina include:
- Pain starting behind the chest bone, often spreading to other parts of the body, e.g. the left arm or the jaw
- Shortness of breath
- A feeling of heaviness in the chest region
- Attacks of sweating
- Feeling off-colour
What causes angina?
Triggers of angina vary from person to person, and it may occur after slight physical activity or when you are at rest. Frequently however, the pain is triggered by physical exertion. The symptoms occur when the heart is in need of more oxygen than it receives in order to work harder, e.g. during hard manual labour or even severe emotional stress. Angina might also be triggered by exposure to hot or cold temperatures or heavy meals. Angina will often disappear if you take a rest. The condition can be due to the following:
- Smoking: Many people who experience angina are smokers. Thus, the risk of developing angina can be reduced if you stop smoking.
- Being obese
- High cholesterol levels
- A lack of physical exercise
- Taking contraceptive pills
In addition, men are more prone to developing angina. It turns out that men develop complications from atherosclerosis approximately 10 years earlier than women.
How is angina treated?
Angina can be treated with medicines, but the doctor will recommend lifestyle changes to begin with. Healthy dietary habits, eating plenty of vegetables and getting plenty of exercise are all important factors. If your cholesterol levels are too high, your doctor might prescribe you cholesterol medications, such as statins. In addition, it is important to stop smoking. If you have an angina attack when at rest, it is important to keep your nitroglycerin tablets within reach, as these reduce the spasms. If the spasms are severe, it is sometimes necessary to perform a coronary angioplasty to widen the affected arteries.