- Angina is a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart.
- It's quite common but can be easily dismissed as something else.
- Stable angina can be managed with rest and medication, but unstable angina can lead to a heart attack.
Angina is a type of chest pain that signals reduced blood flow to the heart and while common, healthcare professionals often overlook symptoms.
The biggest problem is that the chest pain caused by angina is difficult to differentiate from other causes, like indigestion – which is why sudden chest pains require immediate medical attention.
Angina is caused by coronary heart disease, which can be genetic or triggered by other factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and a lack of exercise.
Older people are not the only ones who are susceptible. If premature heart disease has struck a parent or sibling of the same sex before the age of 55, you may also be at risk of developing angina.
The South African Heart and Stroke Foundation revealed in 2016 that five South Africans have a heart attack every hour.
One study from 2017 found that 9% of people in Mpumalanga suffered from angina, while the Heart of Soweto Study found that angina was prevalent among 12% of cases at the cardiology unit of Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital.
What are the symptoms?
Angina is like a dull chest pain that feels tight and heavy. It can spread to your neck, jaw, shoulders, back or stomach, and the symptoms may be present in these places without any chest pain.
Severity and duration can differ from person to person and normally fades away with rest or medication if not serious.
Other symptoms of angina may include dizziness, fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath and sweating.
Stable and unstable angina
Angina can present in two ways, i.e. stable and unstable, according to the British Heart Foundation. The former is triggered by certain rigorous activities that increase heart activity, such as climbing stairs or stress, but is easily managed through resting, reducing stress or medication prescribed by a doctor. It only lasts a few minutes and it is a chest pain you'd be familiar with.
Unstable angina is the dangerous one as it can be a precursor to a heart attack. The term is used when stable angina becomes unstable when the chest pains change their pattern.
Unstable angina differs from stable angina in that you might start experiencing chest pains while doing small amounts of activity, and when the pain is more severe, lasting 30 minutes or longer. It also doesn't go away with rest or by taking your medication. Unstable angina requires urgent medical care because it can lead to heart failure.
Prevention and management
The best way to prevent angina or manage it, if you have already been diagnosed, is by making drastic lifestyle changes: