Dealing with the discomfort and pain of angina is a frequent occurrence for many people today. The stresses of the workplace and family life coupled with more universal stressors such as the economy, domestic and international issues, and social change have only served to increase the frequency and severity of angina attacks.
Understanding what angina is, what causes it and exacerbates it, as well as ways to treat it both medical and non-medically, can help anyone suffering from angina to deal with their symptoms and not allow this condition to control their lives.
What is angina?
Angina pectoris is a discomfort or pain in the chest caused by a decrease in the supply of oxygenated blood going to an area of the heart. A symptom of coronary artery disease, the decrease in blood flow to the heart that precipitates angina is usually caused by atherosclerosis, a narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup.
There are several types of angina. Stable angina is typical and manifests after the heart has been under stress or has been working hard, such as after exercising. It has a predictable pattern and may be relieved by medication, and rest, including reducing stress levels. Unstable angina is a less common and more serious version of angina because it occurs when the person is at rest; an unstable angina attack may be a precursor of a heart attack in the near future. Variant angina is quite rare and while it may occur when the person is at rest, the symptoms can be relieved with medication.
Causes of angina
Coronary artery disease is the most common cause of angina, but other factors may trigger an angina attack by reducing the supply of oxygen-rich blood going to the heart. Physical exercise is a very common trigger for angina since the heart needs higher levels of oxygen when it is working harder. Other triggers include eating a heavy meal; exposure to extremely hot or cold temperatures, smoking, and high levels of emotional stress.
Unstable angina attacks are frequently caused by partial or complete blockage of an artery by a blood clot and may lead to an immediate heart attack. Variant angina is caused by a spasm in an artery that disrupts the supply of blood going to the heart. Exposure to extreme cold; emotional and physical stress, some medications, smoking and cocaine use can all precipitate a variant angina attack.
Dealing with angina
Patients with angina are encouraged to stop smoking and to maintain their ideal weight. They should eat a well-balanced diet and avoid large meals, check their cholesterol levels regularly, and avoid or manage stress in their lives. Surgical procedures such as angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting are sometimes used to treat severe cases of angina.
The medications most frequently prescribed for angina are nitrates. Nitrates, such as nitroglycerin, relax and dilate the blood vessels, decreasing the intensity of angina attacks or preventing them altogether. Other types of medications that may also be used include ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, anti-hypertensive and oral anti-platelet medicines. For patients with angina caused by blood clots, anticoagulants may be given; doctors may prescribe that a patient buy Enoxaparin or another type of anticoagulant to reduce the risk of a clot-related angina attack.