What is Angina?
Angina is the body’s way of telling you that there is some area of the heart that is not getting enough oxygen. The oxygen is carried through a variety of blood vessels, and if one of them gets clogged up by plaque1, then the heart manifests that deficit through an angina. When you experience an angina, then you get feelings of pain or discomfort in and around the area of your heart. The pain can be so low that it feels like indigestion or it can be so high that it feels like a heart attack. The medical term for this pain is known as angina pectoris even though that only describes one type of angina.
What causes angina?
Angina causes are varying and depend on the type of angina that you have. There are causes that intersect, but they are mostly identifying factors in determining which type of angina you have. The four types of angina are:
- Stable angina
- Unstable angina
- Variant angina
- Microvascular angina
Stable angina is the most common form of angina. It occurs when one of the major arteries that take the blood to the heart becomes clogged. It usually happens when the body is faced with physical exertion. It may not trigger when you are sitting or resting, but it might happen when you are doing something physical like exercising or hiking. It can also happen while walking upstairs; it depends on how severe the blockage is. Other causes can include emotional stress, smoking, eating heavy foods, and being exposed to extremely hot or extremely cold temperatures.
Unstable angina, on the other hand, is when the artery is blocked by a blood clot2 instead of plaque. Blood clots form because of the buildup of plaque. The formation of blood clots completely blocks the artery, and that causes a heart attack. The main reason for blood clots forming is when the plaque in an artery ruptures and the blood is forced to clot.
Variant angina occurs when the artery has a spasm and either narrows or closes completely. This can last for a variable length of time, hence the name. This can happen in people with or without Coronary Heart Disease. This angina can be caused due to a multitude of factors, including smoking, cocaine use, medications that tighten blood vessels, stress, and even exposure to cold temperatures.
This is the rarest form of angina and is a symptom of the disease known as Coronary Microvascular Disease. This type of angina usually occurs when bigger vessels have been blocked or obstructed. This causes reduced blood flow through the smaller vessels which, in turn, affects the deeper parts of the heart.
Signs and Symptoms of Angina:
There are many signs and symptoms that happen when you have an angina. Since the four types of angina occur differently, the symptoms of these are also varied. The basic symptoms of an angina are similar, but there are signs that are unique to each type.
An angina is usually accompanied by chest pain that may feel like indigestion or something more severe like a heart attack. If the pain feels severe and you are sure it’s a heart attack, then don’t hesitate to call emergency services.
Symptoms of Stable Angina
This type of angina usually happens when you are doing some sort of physical exercise like running or climbing. You can usually feel it coming, and the pain is universal throughout all the episodes. The episodes usually last for about 5 minutes each, and then the pain starts to abate. This type may feel like indigestion, and it can also feel like chest pain that spreads through your body. This pain can be alleviated using medicine or just by resting.
Symptoms of Unstable Angina
This type of angina usually happens when you are sleeping or resting. No physical exercise is needed to trigger it. You usually don’t anticipate it, and it lasts a lot longer; as long as 30 minutes. The next episodes usually get worse and worse, and they can be a sign of a heart attack. This cannot be alleviated through medication.
Symptoms of Variant Angina
The angina symptoms of this particular type include pain that usually happens when you are resting or sleeping. The pain is really severe, but it can be alleviated by medication.
Symptoms of Microvascular Angina
This type of angina happens when you are going through your daily routine or when you are stressed. Usually, no external triggers are required for this angina to happen. The pain that is accompanied by this angina lasts a lot longer than the other types of angina and also comes with fatigue, energy loss, shortness of breath, and problems sleeping.
Angina Symptoms in Women
Angina in women may have different symptoms than in men. The varying Angina symptoms can include:
- Feeling like you are about to throw up
- Pain near the stomach; below the lungs
- Having trouble breathing
- Intense stabbing pain instead of pain that is more numbing and crushing
- Pain that spreads to the jaw, neck, or back
Treatment for Angina
Since there are so many potential causes for angina, there are a lot of things you can do to treat it. The first thing to remember is that if you smoke, you should quit immediately. You should also consult your doctor if you are overweight for dietary options in order to reduce your chances for angina. It is also best to consider taking minimal fats in your diet; instead, focus on whole grain foods and fruits and vegetables.
You should also try to lower your consumption of alcohol, and if you have any diseases like diabetes, you need to be on treatment for that because that can increase the risk of angina.
There are also medications and procedures that you can opt for, but you need to consult a doctor before you consider these options. Never make the mistake of self-prescribing; that can have dangerous consequences.
- WebMD - Cholesterol and Artery Plaque Buildup
- Healthline - How to Tell If You Have a Blood Clot