The term angina is really a Latin word that means chest pain. Angina is one of the first symptoms of coronary artery disease, a condition that clogs the arteries and reduces the supply of oxygen to the heart.
When a person has coronary artery disease, vigorous or stressful activities strain a heart that’s already struggling to get the oxygen it needs. This strain usually results in chest pain. However, angina is not a heart attack. People with angina generally have frequent chest pain, especially during strenuous exercise. Usually, the pain lasts for just a few minutes and then goes away with rest.
A checkup with the healthcare provider requires a range of special tests that provide information about the condition of the heart and how well it’s functioning. If the heart and arteries aren’t badly damaged, the treatment for angina usually includes a healthy diet, moderate exercise, other lifestyle changes and medications, such as:
- beta blockers, which reduce the heart’s demand for oxygen;
- calcium entry blockers, which lower oxygen needs while also increasing the oxygen supply;
- nitroglycerin, which stops or diminishes anginal pain;
- nitrates, which lower blood pressure.
If damage is already severe, or if medications fail to reduce chest pain, the healthcare provider may recommend a procedure, such as:
- Angioplasty, which compresses the blockage in the arteries, making it easier for oxygen-rich blood to get to the heart, or
- Coronary bypass surgery, which borrows blood vessels from another part of the body to create a bypass around the blocked ones.
It’s important to remember that these procedures can alleviate the symptoms of coronary artery disease, but they cannot cure it.
Angina is a valuable warning sign that, if heeded, can lead to the prevention of more serious conditions. If you experience chest pains frequently, or often have chest pain during exercise, see your healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis and to begin appropriate treatment as soon as possible.