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 Medical Self-Care: Angina 
 
Angina is a common term shortened for the medical term "angina pectoris". The word angina itself means pain; pectoris means chest. Angina is the chest pain or discomfort brought on by decreased circulation in the heart and heart muscle itself. It results from a shortage of oxygen and other nutrients to any part of the heart muscle.

Signs and Symptoms
  • Squeezing pressure, heaviness, or mild ache in thechest (usually behind the breastbone).
  • Aching in a tooth accompanied by this squeezing pressure or heaviness in the chest.
  • Aching into the neck muscles or jaw.
  • Aching into one or both arms in whole or in part.
  • Aching into the back.
  • A feeling of gas in the upper abdomen and lower chest.
  • A feeling that you're choking.
  • Paleness and sweating.
These symptoms may not be extreme so are often neglected. It is better for you to report an episode of angina to your doctor than not to, even if you might feel foolish later if something minor is the cause. Episodes of angina are usually associated with:
  • Anger or excitement.
  • Emotional shock.
  • Physical work in which the discomfort goes away when the work is stopped.
  • Waking up at night with discomfort.
  • Arm use.
In all of these situations, there is relief from the distress when the activity is stopped.

Many people who experience angina for the first time fear they're having a heart attack. Here's why angina and heart attack are mistaken for each other:

  • Both can be caused by a buildup of fatty plaque (atherosclerosis) in the heart arteries (coronary arteries). These plaques cause a decrease in flow to the heart muscle beyond the partial obstruction. In both, the pain is felt in the chest and may spread to both arms, shoulders, or neck.
  • Both may be brought on by physical exertion
  • Both are most prevalent in men who are 50 and older and women who are past menopause
But there are key differences, too:
  • A heart attack results in a damaged or injured heart muscle, angina does not. Rather, anginal pain is a warning sign of a potential heart attack. The pain indicates that the heart muscle isn't getting enough blood.
  • Rest or nitroglycerin relieves angina, but not a heart attack.
A doctor can generally diagnose angina as stable or unstable, based on your description of the painful episode, but he or she many need to confirm it with a stress test (a measurement of heart function taken while you exercise on a treadmill). Unstable angina, a symptom of coronary artery disease, requires immediate attention. This serious medical condition affects many Americans, some of whom may not know they have heart disease. Although unstable angina can be a precursor to heart attack, prompt treatment can lower the risk of death or serious cardiac events.

Factors like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, or a family history of atherosclerotic heart disease increase the odds of angina.



Treatment and Care
Seek emergency care for any chest pain which is suspicious for angina. Contact your physician or a cardiologist who should insist on close follow-up, appropriate studies to diagnose your condition, and therapy to treat it. The keystones to treatment are:
  • Appropriate medicine such as one to control high blood pressure; nitroglycerin or other medication to temporarily dilate or widen the coronary arteries which ease blood flow to the heart. Nitroglycerin takes effect within a minute or two.
  • Daily physical exercise for endurance, preferably prescribed just for you by an exercise physiologist to whom a cardiologist has referred you. Exercise must be maintained below the onset of any discomfort. It may not be applicable at all for some individuals.
  • Don't smoke. Nicotine in cigarettes constricts the arteries and prevents proper blood flow.
  • Avoid large, heavy meals. Instead, eat lighter meals throughout the day.
  • Rest after eating, or engage in some quiet activity.
  • Minimize exposure to cold, windy weather.
  • Lower your cholesterol level, if high, by eating a low saturated fat diet and/or taking lipid (fat) lowering medication, if necessary and prescribed.
  • Avoid sudden engagement in rather severe exercise or other physical stress.
  • Avoid anger and frustration whenever possible.
(Excerpted from Healthy Self: The Guide to Self-Care and Wise Consumerism)
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Disclaimer: The information provided on HealthWorld Online is for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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