Advice for Angina
The most obvious symptoms of angina are chest pain, however, it is also possible to also experience pain in the arms, neck, jaw, shoulders or back.
Other symptoms of angina may include:
- Shortness of breath
The two main types of angina are stable and unstable. There is also another rarer type known as variant angina.
Stable Angina is the most common type. This type of angina is not a medical emergency although it can be frightening when an episode occurs. Characteristics of this type of angina include:
- Episodes occur when the heart is working harder e.g during exercise
- An attack only lasts for a short amount of time
- Symptoms are eased after a period of rest or after taking medication
Unstable Angina is a more serious life-threatening type of angina that is classified as an emergency. Attacks are usually unpredictable and most commonly occur during periods of rest. Characteristics include:
- Episodes are more severe and may not respond to your medication
- An attack may last a long time this can be over 30 minutes
Variant Angina is otherwise known as Prinzmetal angina is much rarer and is seen more often in younger people than the other types of angina. It is caused by spasms in the arteries that supply the heart rather than a narrowing. Characteristics include:
- Episodes almost always occur during periods of rest, most commonly at night.
- An attack is often severe
- Symptoms can be relieved using medication
If you are experiencing any new chest pain or a change in your usual symptoms of chest pain it is essential that you seek advice from a doctor. At your appointment, you will likely be asked for a detailed medical history, for information about your symptoms and about your lifestyle. Your GP will also want to carry out physical tests including blood pressure, height, weight and blood cholesterol level.
If the GP suspects you are suffering from angina or any other problem with your heart you will be referred to your local hospital for further testing, including an electrocardiogram (ECG) and an angiogram, which allows the doctors to look closely at the vessels of your heart to see how it is working.
Treatments for angina are used to both treat and prevent further attacks as well as reduce the risk of you developing further complications such as a heart attack or stroke.
Medication for treating and preventing attacks: Glyceryl trinitrate or GTN is the most commonly used medication for stable angina, usually used as a mouth spray. It works by relaxing the blood vessels, helping them to widen to allow more blood flow to the heart. It can be used to prevent or treat an attack.
Medication to prevent an attack: if you suffer from angina you will likely need to take daily medication that slows the heart rate (beta-blockers) or medication that relaxes the artery walls (calcium channel blockers).
You may also need to take other medication alongside your angina medication to reduce your risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke. These include:
- A low dose of aspirin - to prevent blood clots
- Statins - to reduce levels of fat in the blood (cholesterol)
- ACE inhibitors - to lower blood pressure
Angina is one of the most apparent symptoms of heart disease. It, therefore, is possible to reduce symptoms of angina or prevent angina from developing altogether by making some of the following healthy lifestyle changes that reduce your risk of heart disease.
- If you smoke, get support to stop smoking and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
- If you are overweight, try to lose some weight.
- Eat a healthy diet - limiting saturated fat, increase your intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise regularly- it is advisable to work with a professional to ensure you exercise safely.
- Adopt techniques to try and reduce your stress levels.
- Limit your alcohol consumption.