The heart is a muscle that gets its blood from the coronary arteries. The blood carries oxygen with it and this, together with the nutrients, is what keeps the heart pumping. Now, when the heart does not get enough blood and oxygen, it can no longer function in its full capacity. The problem happens when you do something that demands more from the heart, like physical exertion, being in a place with extreme temperature, or having a sudden bout of extreme emotion. When that happens, and you’re not getting enough blood in the first place, you will feel a sudden pain on your chest, as if you’re being squeezed. This pain is called is angina.
There are two main classifications of angina: stable and unstable. There is a third type but it is generally rare, and it is called variant angina. Each of the angina types have different symptoms as well as different causes, although all exhibit the same symptom of chest pain and discomfort that is typically described by the patients as a heavy weight placed on their chests. The pressure can sometimes extend to the arms, the neck, the jaw, and the shoulder or back.
Stable angina is the most common type of angina and is what most people usually experience. They are predictable and usually occur in a pattern. Stable angina develops when you engage in any strenuous activity that makes your heart work harder, such as when you exercise or climb a long flight of stairs. The pain lasts for a short period of time, commonly less than five minutes and disappears once you take a rest or take any angina medication. Stable angina can also be triggered by any intense emotional or mental stress.
Unstable angina is a much more serious condition than the stable angina. The symptoms become unpredictable and the pain is much more severe, and lasts longer; some attacks can last more as long as 30 minutes. Unstable anginas can occur even though you’re not doing any strenuous activity; they even occur when you’re at rest. When an attack does occur, they usually do not disappear even if you use angina medications. If you’re suffering from repeated unstable angina attacks, then have yourself checked by a doctor right away. It might be a prelude to a serious coronary heart disease.
Causes of Angina
For stable and unstable angina, cause is just usually the heart not being able to keep up with the demands of exertion, especially when the coronary arteries are narrowed. Intense physical workout demands more blood to the heart, and any delay will ultimately cause it pain. Hardening of the arteries is also one of the main causes of angina, and it happens when fatty substance or cholesterol builds up inside your blood vessels, blocking the blood flow. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and smoking can accelerate the buildup.
Infection or inflammation of the heart artery can also lead to the blockage or disruption of blood flow to the heart. These can be caused by bacteria or viruses. Also, any form of injury to the coronary arteries can lead to angina attacks.
Random spasms of the heart muscles around the coronary arteries can also cause them to narrow or even close off, albeit temporarily. Variant angina is usually the result of these spasms, although they are rare, accounting for only 2 percent of angina problems.
Getting Rid of Angina
Treating and getting rid of angina usually entails lifestyle changes in conjunction with taking your medications. Also, since angina is often an underlying cause of most of the heart disease problems, most of the tips here will be what you would also take to reduce heart disease problems.
- Eat healthy. You have heard of foods that increase the risk of coronary heart problems. Things you have to limit or avoid include saturated fats and anything that will increase your cholesterol levels. Get plenty of fruits, grains, and vegetables.
- Exercise. Regular exercise will help keep your arteries free from fats as well as keep your heart strong. Exercise also helps in the proper circulation of blood not only to your heart but throughout your whole system. Don’t dive directly into strenuous activities though, especially if you already have a history of angina. Instead, ask your doctor to help you come up with a proper exercise plan.
- Stop smoking. Aside from killing your lungs, smoking increases your blood pressure and heart rate with each use. It also increases the risk of any secondary cardiovascular problem. Finally, it causes the arteries to constrict, again leading to an increase in blood pressure and angina attacks.
- Watch your weight. It has been established that obesity is one of the leading causes of heart problems and hypertension which in turn increases angina problems. Obese people also have higher levels of insulin production and this elevates the blood pressure. Studies have also shown that there is a proportional increase with cardiac output fatty areas and to organs like the heart and weight gain. Simply put, the more fat you have, the more your heart needs to pump blood, and the more you run the risk of angina.
- Take your anti-angina medications. Be sure to take your anti-angina medications as prescribed by your physician. Follow the prescription, no more, no less.
- Treat other conditions that may affect your angina. If you have diabetes or high blood cholesterol, treat those first. They have a big impact on increasing the risk of an angina attack.
- Pace yourself. Remember that angina attacks are usually brought upon by exertion, whether physical, emotional, or mental. Don’t over-exert, manage your stress, and take breaks. The key is in moderation.
Anginas are common, and they don’t necessarily mean that you already have a heart problem. If the symptoms persist, however, and become more unpredictable and erratic, then waste no time. Go to a doctor right away. As much as possible, have someone drive you over. You don’t want to die in a car accident instead.
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