Angina symptoms are chest pain caused by the heart muscle receiving insufficient oxygen via its blood supply. In medical terms this is known as cardiac ischaemia. It is usually caused by narrowings in the coronary arteries, restricting blood flow through them. A doctor may use the medical term angina pectoris when talking to you about your angina symptoms.
Angina is a temporary discomfort in the chest that may vary from a mild tightness or discomfort to a severe crushing heaviness.
It may spread to the:
- Arms or
- Through to the upper back
Sometimes angina can feel like indigestion and cause you to belch, and is often associated with a feeling of breathlessness.
The duration of angina pain is usually brief, lasting for only a few seconds or a few minutes. You will learn to recognise your own pattern of angina symptoms: when it is likely to occur, how long it will last and the type of discomfort you may feel.
Typically angina is brought on by physical activity or emotional stress and subsides with rest or relaxation. The majority of patients experience angina that comes on with a predictable amount of exercise – this is known as stable angina. Stable angina may be more readily provoked if you exercise on hills, in cold or windy weather or following a meal.
If the frequency, severity or duration of your angina symptoms change you should seek medical attention.
By means of lifestyle modifications and the use of medication or surgery, the vast majority of patients can live a long, productive and active life. Understanding your condition will allow you to reduce the frequency and severity of your angina symptoms.
What Can Cause Your Angina Symptoms ?
The coronary arteries are like fuel pipes to an engine: feeding the heart muscle with oxygenated blood and thereby enabling it to pump blood around the body. In coronary heart disease the heart arteries become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls. This condition is called atherosclerosis and the fatty deposits are called atheroma or plaques.
A little bit of narrowing is generally harmless. However, if the coronary artery becomes too narrowed by the plaques of fat it cannot deliver sufficient blood to the heart muscle. This happens particularly when the heart has to work harder than normal. Insufficient blood supply to the heart muscle causes the symptoms of angina, disturbances of the pattern of heart beats known as arrhythmias and if the artery becomes completely blocked can also cause heart attacks.
Several factors are known to influence the development of atheroma and angina. These can be divided into two main groups:
- Factors you can influence (modifiable risk factors)
- Factors you cannot influence (non-modifiable risk factors)
Modifiable risk factors include:
- Being overweight
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol levels
- Lack of physical exercise
- Excessive alcohol
Non-modifiable risk factors include:
- A family history of coronary heart disease at an early age
- Male gender
As we get older the risks of developing heart disease increase and men have a greater risk at a younger age than females, who are relatively protected by their hormones until after the menopause.
As coronary heart disease tends to develop over time, there are opportunities to prevent or control the modifiable risk factors and thus reduce the rate at which atherosclerosis develops.