Skye likes writing about mental health, nutrition, and wellness. She is passionate about sharing information that will educate, and positively affect people's lives.
Po-Chang Hsu, M.D.
Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University. Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel.
June 21, 2021
In the United States alone, about 10 million people experience angina, or chest pain. What is angina? What causes it? What can you do to relieve the pain?
The official name of angina is angina pectoris. Angina is a specific kind of chest pain that is caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. This condition is one of the many symptoms of coronary heart disease.
Angina attacks are sometimes referred to as “mini heart attacks” as they are somewhat similar to the early phases of an actual heart attack. However, these attacks are far less deadly than heart attacks.
Sufferers often report angina to cause one or more of the following symptoms:
In general, sufferers of angina feel like a heavyweight is being pressed against their chest as if they are attempting their maximum bench press.
As angina attacks continue, sufferers have reported symptoms:
If you’re experiencing angina symptoms, it may be tough to do much of anything. The pain is sudden, intense, and completely unexpected.
There are a few things you can do, however, to curtail the effects of the attack or outright stop it. Here some things you can do to combat an angina attack:
This is the first thing to do when experiencing angina symptoms. If you’re doing any physical activity, including just standing, sit or lay down immediately. When you’re suffering from a stable angina attack, the rest should make the attack stop within five minutes.
If you’re suffering from a heart attack, the rest will not make it stop, and you need to go to the hospital. If the angina attack begins while you’re already at rest, you are likely suffering a heart attack.
Nitroglycerin or vasodilators open the blood vessels and increase blood flow. This should stop the attack, given that it is not a severe heart attack.
Lastly, performing calming breathing exercises will help your heart absorb as much oxygen as possible. Doing this can calm you down and help your heart recover from a lack of oxygen.
There are different kinds of angina, and severity can vary based on which kind. A doctor needs to evaluate symptoms to know if you are experiencing stable angina or unstable angina, which can be a precursor to a heart attack.
The most common form of angina is stable angina. This type of angina only occurs when you are physically exerting yourself. Activities such as cardiovascular workouts or simple things like walking uphill or up a flight of stairs can trigger stable angina attacks.
Stable angina attacks only last for about five minutes on average and go away with rest or angina medication use.
A more dangerous but less common form of angina is unstable angina. Unstable angina is essentially the “on-ramp” for a heart attack.
You will know that it is an unstable angina attack when:
If this is the case, you may be suffering from a heart attack and must get to a hospital immediately.
Angina is caused by the reduction of blood flow to your heart muscle. Since the heart pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, it requires plenty of oxygen to function correctly.
If, for any reason, your heart loses access to precious oxygen, symptoms of angina will be triggered as your heart alerts your brain that something is wrong. So technically, angina is a pain in the heart that the brain interprets as a pain in the chest.
It is a misconception that angina is only chest pain. If rest immediately stops the symptoms, that is a key indication that your angina is caused by a lack of oxygen to the heart. Besides chest pain, other angina symptoms are pain in the shoulders, neck, back, and arms.
When you are at a resting heart rate, you may not experience angina, but as soon as you become active and your heart starts pumping harder, you will feel angina.
The usual culprits for the heart issues that cause angina are coronary artery diseases. These diseases affect the heart’s coronary arteries, responsible for transporting oxygenated blood throughout the heart muscle.
These arteries wrap around the entire heart and require a constant supply of freshly oxygenated blood to maintain the heart’s healthy function.
As soon as these arteries are compromised in any way, you can expect to start experiencing symptoms like angina.
The most common cause of coronary heart disease is a poor lifestyle. Some behaviors that can lead to heart diseases that cause angina are:
Additionally, being diabetic significantly increases the odds of developing coronary heart disease. In almost every angina case, the cause can be linked back to a lack of exercise.
Exercise is the number one prevention tool we have to combat angina. By performing an exercise of any intensity level regularly, we are essentially lubricating our arteries, keeping them in optimal condition and free of pollutants.
Yes, it can be. If you have a family history of coronary heart disease, you are at a significantly higher risk for developing the condition. If you have inherited coronary disease, however, you can still improve your situation.
Angina is somewhat common, but it can be hard to tell the difference between angina chest pain and other pain. It is hard to distinguish a minor pain and what could turn into a serious health problem.
If your chest pain lasts more than a few minutes and doesn’t go away, even if you take medication, it could mean that you have a heart attack, if that is the case, call 911 for immediate help.
If you are new to experiencing chest pain, it is essential to tell a doctor about all your symptoms, including all about this chest pain. Chest pain could be a sign of a severe condition.
Telehealth is a great resource to start. Our partners at PlushCare are a top choice recently awarded as one of the top startups of 2021 by Forbes. Doctors at PlushCare can help you diagnose, treat, and even medicate your condition. They will walk you through each step’s process and will be there for you in your journey with angina.
Click here to make an appointment with a PlushCare doctor.
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