What is angina?

Angina, or angina pectoris, is chest pain that occurs when the blood supply to the muscles of the heart is restricted. This is because the arteries supplying the heart become hardened and narrowed. An angina attack has been described as a dull and tight pain in the chest, which can spread to the left arm, neck or back. It can be triggered by physical activities or stress. It is always an emergency when an angina attack occurs and medical attention is imperative. Sometimes angina pain can be difficult to distinguish from other types of chest pain, and can be misinterpreted as indigestion.

What are the symptoms of angina?

The symptoms that are associated with angina include:

  • Chest pain
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, shoulder or back
  • Nausea
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness

The chest pain felt during an angina attack has been described as an extremely heavy weight on the chest or that the chest has been squeezed. The duration of the angina attack can vary.

The symptoms of angina in women can be different from the classic signs. A woman can experience nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, abdominal pain without chest pain. This can result in a delay in seeking emergency treatment.

What are the different types of angina?

Stable angina is the most common type. This develops when the heart works harder, such as when exercising. It lasts for a short amount of time such as less than five minutes. It can disappear if the person experiencing the attack rests.

An unstable angina is a medical emergency. This can occur even when a person is at rest and it is completely unexpected. It is severe and can last as long as 30 minutes. It can signal a heart attack.

Risk factors of angina

The following can increase the risk factor of an angina:

  • Tobacco – smoking and regular exposure to second-hand smoke damages the interior walls of arteries and allows deposits of cholesterol to collect and block blood flow.
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • High cholesterol or triglyceride levels – The wrong cholesterol, known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) increases the risk of angina and heart attacks.
  • Increase in age
  • No exercise
  • Overweight
  • Stress

How to prevent angina

An improvement to lifestyle choices can be made to prevent angina. This includes quitting smoking, monitoring other health conditions such as hypertension and high levels of cholesterol. A healthy diet, which eradicates saturated fats is also recommended, as is regular physical activity. Stress levels should be reduced and a healthy weight maintained.