Contributed by: Rachana Arya
Have you ever experienced a sharp pain in your chest and your first thought was that it was a heart attack?
Maybe you even went to the emergency room or called your doctor, only to be diagnosed that your heart attack was actually angina.
So, what is angina?
Actually, angina (pronounced ANN-juh-nuh or ann-JIE-nuh) is the clinical term for chest pain, pressure or tightness.
It is an extremely common symptom of coronary heart disease (CHD), also known as coronary artery disease (CAD). It can also be a symptom of coronary microvascular disease (MVD).
It is caused when blood flow to the heart muscle is restricted and the heart is not getting enough oxygen to do its work.
If you have angina, it means there is a build-up of a waxy substance made up of cholesterol and other substances (plaque), in the arteries to the point where your heart muscles are starved of blood and oxygen.
This can lead to irreversible damage to some of the heart muscles. While the condition doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having — or are at increased risk of having — a heart attack, you should also seek immediate medical attention if your chest pain lasts longer than a few minutes.
Symptoms of angina
Angina tends to occur during strenuous physical activity or emotional stress, exposure to cold temperatures, or after big meals.
In some cases, the pain may often feel like gas or indigestion and may include the following symptoms:
Sense of pressure, aching, squeezing or burning in the middle of the chest
Pain, pressure, or burning in the neck, jaw, arms and shoulders
An uncomfortable sense of anxiety or uneasiness
Fatigue or weakness
Shortness of breath
Treatment of angina
Angina is your body’s way of alerting you that you have coronary artery disease.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill for angina. Treating angina means boosting the blood flow to the heart to ease symptoms.
It can be frightening and confusing to be diagnosed with angina. Given its serious nature, one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to make small, easy, and healthy lifestyle changes.
To improve your angina, lifestyle changes are sometimes enough, though most people may need one or more medications to ease or prevent angina.
Here are some of the things that can slow the build-up of plaque in your arteries and reduce your risk of heart attack —
Adopt a heart-healthy diet
A growing body of evidence reveals that eating a heart-healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, roots, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds can help fight the plaque build-up that is responsible for angina.
Avoid tobacco & smoking
Smoking is one of the most detrimental factors to heart health. Quitting the use of tobacco is the single most important step you can take to live longer.
Maintain an ideal body weight
Excess weight is a key culprit in atherosclerosis development. If you have high body weight, lowering it assists in the prevention of the progression of heart disease and reduces the strain on your heart.
To lower your weight, limit your consumption of animal-based proteins, eat foods that are rich in fibre and low in refined or added sugars and follow a regular exercise program.
Exercise for at least 30 minutes, 5 times a week
Strong evidence has shown the addition of more physical exercise to your daily regimen is one of the most effective ways to improve your heart health.
If you have been sedentary, start with light-intensity exercises, such as walking, and gradually increase your exercise time as your heart health improves.
Keep your blood pressure under control
High blood pressure makes your heart work harder and can damage the lining of your arteries.
If you already have angina, high blood pressure can aggravate your symptoms and raise your chances of having a heart attack.
If you have high blood pressure, you must make every effort to lower it.
Manage your stress levels
If stress and anger regularly bring on your angina, deep breathing exercises, a stress-reduction program or yoga and meditation can help you reduce your symptoms.
Make modifications to your daily activities
If certain kinds of activity regularly cause angina, try performing the activity more slowly.
Because your heart is more stressed in the mornings and after meals, aim to limit your physical activity during those times.
Build a support system
Learn new habits and build a support system by meeting other people who are making similar changes.
Additionally, it may help lower your risk of depression, which is frequent in persons with heart problems.
The cornerstone of the management of angina is a change to a healthy lifestyle.
Evidence shows that with significant lifestyle changes, you can control the symptoms of angina and slow the risk of it progressing into a heart attack.
It is important to remember that not all chest pain is a sign of heart disease.
Having said that, angina is an important warning sign that warrants medical attention.
In general, all chest pain should be evaluated by a doctor, especially the one that comes on suddenly.
If your doctor believes that your angina is caused by a significant cardiac problem, he or she may recommend some tests and procedures.
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