Angina is a common condition, affecting around half a million Australians. It’s a serious symptom that one or more of the coronary arteries isn’t getting enough oxygen, and it significantly increases the risk of Heart Attack.
The good news is that many of the key risks for Angina, and the Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) that often causes it, can be controlled.
Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is the precursor to Angina and involves the narrowing of the arteries over time due to a fatty substance called atheroma. Angina develops when this fatty plaque build up begins to block the flow of blood through the coronary arteries, restricting the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle.
While Angina doesn't usually damage the heart, it's a serious symptom that one or more of the coronary arteries isn't getting enough oxygen and you're at significant risk of Heart Attack.
Smoking, being overweight, having High Blood Pressure, High Blood Cholesterol or diabetes all increase the risk of developing Angina.
The primary cause of Angina is Coronary Heart Disease, or CHD, which is a result of atherosclerosis, a narrowing of the arteries due to a build up of a fatty substance called atheroma which blocks the flow of blood through the coronary arteries.
You're at a greater risk of experiencing Angina if you smoke, are overweight, have High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol or diabetes.
Symptoms include a heavy crushing pain or pressure in the centre of the chest. Some people describe it as tightness, pressure or indigestion. It can spread from the chest to the neck, jaw and commonly down the left arm. Other symptoms can include shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, and tiredness.
Angina usually occurs when your body is under a form of stress that causes your heart rate to be faster, such as exercise, anger, excitement, or extreme cold and it can also be brought on by a heavy meal.
Angina tends to recede when the stress stops, but if your symptoms last for more than 15 minutes after you've rested or taken medication, you may be having a Heart Attack, so call 000 immediately.
To work out whether the chest pains you're experiencing are Angina, your doctor may run blood tests and an ECG (electrocardiogram), which measures your heart's electrical system. An exercise ECG or 'stress test' will also be arranged and probably an angiogram to check out the presence of blockages in your coronary arteries.
You're at a greater risk of experiencing Angina if you smoke, are overweight, have High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol or diabetes so it's time to take steps to get these risk factors under control.
Once Angina and usually the underlying issue of Coronary Heart Disease are identified, medication and in some cases surgery are required. Equally important in the ongoing treatment mix is you - taking control of the risk factors and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Some people need a surgical procedure such as coronary angioplasty. This involves the insertion of a ‘balloon' into the patients artery, which is then inflated to open up the blockage. Once the coronary artery is open, a stent, or expandable metal tube, is often inserted into the artery so that it stays open permanently.
Another treatment is coronary artery bypass graft surgery, (CABG).This procedure uses a section of healthy vein or synthetic tubing, to redirect blood flow around a narrowed area in one or more of your arteries, so that blood can flow to the heart more freely.
Patients with Angina are generally prescribed metoprolol (beta blocker) and a statin (cholesterol-lowering agent) as there is clear evidence that these medications reduce the risk of death.
For patients over 50 years and older, low dose aspirin is often suggested as it is known to act as a low grade blood thinner and has been proven to significantly reduce the chance of Heart Attack in men.
Additional blood thinning medications such as clopidogrel or warfarin may be prescribed to further reduce the chance of blood clots forming in the narrowed blood vessels.
Nitroglycerin spray under the tongue is sometimes prescribed if Angina still occurs despite medications.
If surgery isn't possible, medications such as calcium channel blockers may be prescribed to control symptoms by widening the blocked area.
Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), the underlying cause of Angina, develops over many years. Although you can’t do anything about risk factors such as your gender, age or family medical history, you can reduce your risk significantly by knowing the controllable risk factors and managing them.
Often, reducing your risk can be as simple as being active, maintaining an ideal weight, eating a healthy well balanced diet and not smoking. This can help prevent the development of most risk factors for Cardiovascular Disease including Angina. Remember, it’s never too early to start!
If you smoke, there has never been a better time to quit. Nicotine replacement patches or prescription medications are effective in reducing the cravings.
Do you know your cholesterol levels? Most people don't. Information is key, so knowing where you stand is the first step in keeping track and maintaining your heart health. You can order a Blood Pathology Request through HeartSmart.me. Results are mailed directly to you and you can track your results using the My Heart Health section of HeartSmart.me.
Supplements are a great way to make sure you're getting your daily requirement of heart healthy nutrients. Supplements such as Omega 3 fish oil, Vitamins C and E and Coenzyme Q10 can be very beneficial to your heart health.
If you have diabetes, follow your doctor’s direction and keep your blood glucose within a healthy range. Even if you don't have diabetes, stick to a low GI (Glycaemic Index) diet. You won’t be hungry and your blood sugar levels will be stable.
Order a HeartSmart.me blood pressure monitor and keep track of your blood pressure weekly. You can record your results in the My Heart Health section of HeartSmart.me. Aim to keep your blood pressure out of the danger zone - below 140/90mmHg. If your blood pressure is consistently high see your doctor.
Get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day, or at least 2 hours in total per week. Even better, if you can get 4 hours of sweaty activity per week, you'll help lower your risk of cancer too.
Get your waist measurement to your 'low risk' zone. Men should keep it below 95cm and women should be below 80cm. Aim for a Body Mass Index of less than 25. You can track your progress in the My Heart Health section of HeartSmart.me.
Happiness is good for the heart. Just as negative emotions such as depression, anger, and hostility are risk factors for heart attack and stroke, studies show that happiness seems to protect the heart.