Many people believe that angina is limited to elderly patients or those with known heart disease; however, it can strike at almost anyone, at any age.
Angina pectoris is the medical term for the pain or discomfort that occurs from insufficient blood flow to your heart muscle. Symptoms can affect your chest, shoulder or shoulder blades, throat or jaw, as well as your chest. You may experience a feeling or tightness or heaviness, or feel as though your chest is being squeezed.
Although angina can cause significant pain, it often begins with only a mild feeling of discomfort. Many people mistake it for indigestion or muscle spasms. If this condition persists too long, however, it can result in damage to the heart.
Angina can be triggered by exertion but it is also a common symptom of coronary artery disease (CAD), which occurs when plaque accumulates in the coronary artery. As a result, the interior of the artery narrows and blocks blood flow.
Other possible causes of angina include:
- Damaged or abnormal heart valves
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Coronary artery spasm (temporarily restricting blood flow)
- A thyroid problem
- Polycythemia (blood thickening as a result of excess red blood cells)
- Epigastric (upper abdomen) problems
It’s important to note that angina in women can present itself in a very atypical manner.
Women, who often develop heart disease differently than men, may feel out of breath or experience nausea, vomiting or pain in the abdomen. Once the demand for extra oxygen goes away, so too might the symptoms.
Doctors diagnose angina by first reviewing the patient’s health history, risk factors and a detailed description of the symptoms. The doctor may recommend tests that could include an ECG, an exercise stress test, a stress echocardiogram, a nuclear stress test or — in some cases – cardiac catheterization.
Treatment for angina related to coronary artery disease typically includes a combination of lifestyle changes, weight loss, medication and management of blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose. Lifestyle changes may involve quitting smoking, decreasing alcohol consumption and dietary changes as well as a heart-healthy exercise regimen.
If this approach to treatment is not effective, your doctor may recommend coronary angioplasty or bypass surgery.
If you or a loved one has experienced chest pain or any possible symptom of angina, contact your doctor today for further evaluation. If symptoms persist or worsen, please don’t hesitate to dial 911 immediately.