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The most common symptom of coronary heart disease is angina, commonly known as chest pain. Angina is commonly mistaken for indigestion, so if you experience symptoms of angina it is imperative not to make this assumption, and to seek a doctor’s care instead. Heart disease can develop in anyone, so it is important not to assume you are immune to it. If you have a family history or have already been told you are at risk of developing heart disease, you should learn about angina and be ready to seek medical attention if you should begin to experience it.

Occasionally, angina can occur as a symptom of another disorder, so it doesn’t always signal heart disease. The only way to be certain is to see a doctor for a full exam.

If you already know you have heart disease, monitor your angina and take medications as prescribed by your doctor. Pay close attention to frequency, location, and severity of your angina symptoms. If there is a change you should immediately report this to your doctor. Sometimes stable angina can worsen to unstable angina, and your doctor needs to know about this change right away so that you can make changes to your treatment if necessary.

What Does Angina Feel Like?

Unstable AnginaAngina may be felt as a squeezing, burning, pressure, heaviness, aching, or any other significant discomfort of the chest. Many patients say it feels like a band around the chest, or a heavy weight pressing down upon them. The chest area is the most common place to feel angina. However, you may also feel angina in the arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, throat, or even the back. You may also feel a rapid or skipping heartbeat.

Angina can feel like asthma symptoms, a muscle strain, or heartburn. It is best not to jump to conclusions and assume you have heart disease, but on the other hand do not assume your symptoms are simply heartburn. It is always best to visit the doctor to determine the cause of the symptoms.

Angina symptoms can appear at any time, whether you are under stress, relaxing, or exercising. In fact, the timing of symptoms related to your activities at the time will help to determine the type of angina you are experiencing.

What Causes Angina?

Angina occurs when there is a fall in the amount of blood flowing to certain parts of the heart. This reduces the amount of oxygen being supplied to the heart muscle cells, as well as their supply of vital nutrients. When that occurs, your heart muscles will resort to the use of less efficient alternative fuel forms so it can continue its vital duty of pumping blood to all body parts. When the less-efficient fuel is used, by-products are formed including a chemical called lactic acid. This builds in muscle tissues around the heart and causes the patient pain. Sometimes, medications used in the treatment of angina will inhibit the usage of alternative fuel sources.

Depending upon the type of angina you suffer, this may occur during exercise or other periods of time when oxygen flow to the heart is reduced. This type of angina may go away when you stop the activity you have been doing. It also may occur at random times seemingly unrelated to your activities, such as when you are resting.

Different Types of Angina

The two main types of angina are stable and unstable angina. There is also a third type called Prinzmetal’s angina. Types of angina are differentiated by when they occur, as well as their underlying cause.

Stable angina is very predictable and will only occur during times of extreme distress, either emotional or physical. Emotional stress can trigger chest pain, and in this case the source of the distress has to be addressed. Depending upon the patient’s needs, this can be accomplished through various methods of reducing stress, such as relaxation techniques or medication. Other times stable angina is triggered by physical exertion such as exercise. It will disappear if adequate rest is taken. The main point to remember about stable angina is that has predictable triggers, and when those triggers are removed the angina is relieved as well.

Unstable angina is very different. It will occur at unpredictable times, even while resting, and will be quite different in frequency and intensity than stable angina. Often patients with stable angina will begin to see a shift in their symptoms, and will begin to experience unstable angina as well. It is very important to pay attention to this type of chest pain, as it signals the possibility of a heart attack. Shifting from stable to unstable angina signals a worsening of the underlying condition, and may mean a heart attack is imminent. Any time you experience unstable angina you should go to the emergency room and seek medical attention immediately.

Prinzmetal’s angina specifically refers to chest pain that kicks in when the patient is resting, sleeping, or exposed to very cold temperatures. In Prinzmetal’s angina, symptoms are triggered by reduced heart muscle blood flow due to the coronary artery spasm. Most people that suffer from this kind of angina are also be patients of coronary artery disease. A blockage in the arteries of the heart causes the spasm to take place.

Risk Factors for Angina

Angina can happen to anyone, but certain factors will cause you to have a higher risk for developing chest pain. These factors are:
1)Family history
2)Diabetes
3)Smoking
4)Advanced age
5)High blood pressure
6)High cholesterol
7)Obesity
8)Thyroid disease
9)Gender – males have a higher risk of developing angina
10) Menopause – during this time the risk for women rises
11)Stress
12)Sedentary lifestyle – not exercising frequently

Treatment for Angina

Unstable AnginaIf you are experiencing angina, your doctor will need to run several tests to discover the cause of your pain. These tests may include a stress test, an electrocardiogram (ECG), coronary catheterization, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the heart, or an electron beam computed tomography (EBCT) scan. These tests will help your doctor determine which specific disorder is affecting your heart, so that appropriate treatment can be pursued. These tests are not overly painful, and some cause no discomfort whatsoever. They can, however, be stressful to undergo, considering you are investigating the possibility of damage to your heart. It is important to remember that heart disease will not go away on its own, but with proper treatment it can be managed and your symptoms can be lessened or even alleviated.

Depending upon your test results, treatment may include taking the medication nitroglycerine a few minutes before pursuing activities that normally trigger your symptoms. This will help prevent chest pain. You may also be instructed to take the medication if angina presents unpredictably. You may also need to keep track of your angina symptoms by writing down their frequency and severity. This type of self-monitoring can help you determine whether your angina is worsening, so that you can notify your doctor.

The main treatment for your angina will be preventive measures against heart disease. These include:
1)Stop smoking, if you smoke
2)Reduce stress
3)Exercise regularly – 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week
4)Lose weight if obesity is a concern
5)Control complicating conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol levels
6)Nutritional changes, such as eating a diet high in fiber, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low in saturated fats

Since angina is usually triggered by heart disease, these preventive measures can slow down or halt the progress of the disease, and therefore relieve chest pain. The prospect of heart disease and the accompanying complications and discomforts may be enough to motivate you to make these changes. If you have difficulty making these lifestyle changes, there is help available. Tell your doctor you are having trouble, and you may be referred for further help. For example, there are various methods of quitting smoking, and different people have different needs to address their addiction. Enlisting an exercise buddy is often very helpful to maintain motivation. There may also be support groups or counseling available, or a registered dietitian can help you learn about proper nutrition. You may even wish to pursue a cooking class catered to your needs, so that you can learn to prepare delicious, heart-healthy meals specific to your needs.

Angina Without Coronary Heart Disease

Occasionally the presence of angina will signify a different type of heart problem, such as aortic stenosis. This is a problem with the valves of the heart which causes a reduced blood flow to the heart’s coronary arteries. Those whose suffer from anemia may also experience angina, due to their blood not having enough oxygen to carry nutrients to the heart muscles. Some people with thicker heart muscles may experience angina, since they will require more oxygen in their blood. Since the only way to discover the cause of angina is to be thoroughly examined by a physician, don’t make assumptions about the cause of your condition, and schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible when chest pain presents itself.