By Rohan Wagle, M.D.
Have you ever seen an actor in an old movie dramatically clutch his chest and pop a pill when he gets shocking news?
Chances are the culprit is angina, sometimes called angina pectoris, which is chest pain brought on by decreased blood flow to the heart.
And while it may be humorous to watch an actor ham it up, angina is no laughing matter. It’s a warning sign that something, usually a fatty build-up called plaque or a blood clot, is causing your arteries to be too narrow. Knowing the triggers for and treating angina may help you avoid a heart attack.
Know the Triggers
When your heart doesn’t need much oxygen, such as when you’re relaxed and resting, it can usually beat along with no problem. But if something happens to increase the heart’s need for oxygen, angina symptoms may strike.
Triggers for angina pain include:
• Physical exertion
• Stress or anger
• Hot or cold temperatures
• Large or heavy meals
Treatment Depends on Severity
Not surprisingly, the same lifestyle choices that help you have a healthier heart may help keep angina at bay. If your angina is mild, they may be enough to curb symptoms.
Even if you take medicine for angina, you should still follow these guidelines. Making heart-healthy choices is the most important thing you can do for your heart and angina.
• Avoid tobacco and second-hand smoke.
• Keep other health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, under control.
• Eat a healthy diet and avoid large, rich meals.
• Watch your weight.
• Talk to your doctor about safe exercise options.
• Avoid over-exertion by taking frequent breaks and not overdoing it.
• Try to keep stress levels low.
If lifestyle changes don’t give you relief, your doctor may recommend medication. There are several types out there, including medicines to:
• Let more blood flow to the heart by widening or relaxing blood vessels.
• Decrease heart rate.
• Prevent blood clots.
• Lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
If neither of these approaches help, you may need surgery to treat the heart disease causing angina. The most common procedures are angioplasty and coronary artery bypass grafting.
Take Angina Seriously
Never ignore chest pain or try to diagnose it yourself.
• If you have chest pain, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
• If you have chest pain that lasts more than 5 minutes and doesn’t go away when you rest, this may be sign of a heart attack. You should seek emergency care immediately.
Do you or a family member have angina? How do you handle it?
Dr. Rohan Wagle is a board-certified cardiologist at Kelsey-Seybold. He cares for patients at Katy Clinic and Tanglewood Clinic. His clinical interests include coronary artery disease, heart failure, arrhythmias, valvular heart disease, echocardiography, nuclear cardiology, preventive cardiology, chest pain, hypertension, high cholesterol and myocardial infarctions.