Lifestyle tips, surgery and medications for angina and chest pain, a common heart attack symptom
By Katherine Solem
Angina is a type of chest pain or discomfort that is caused by lack of oxygen to the heart muscle. It is a common symptom of coronary heart disease (CHD) (also called coronary artery disease), the most common form of heart disease, and often signals that a heart attack may occur in the future. Because of this, treatment of angina is essential to reduce the chance of heart attack or other heart problems.
The main goal in angina treatment is to reduce or eliminate the risk of heart attack by treating the underlying heart problem. Treatment also focuses on reducing pain and discomfort and the frequency of angina attacks.
If your angina symptoms are mild and not getting worse, lifestyle changes and medication may be all you need to control angina. If these measures aren't enough, surgery, cardiac rehabilitation or other measures may be needed.
The first place to start when it comes to reducing angina symptoms, preventing angina attacks and lowering your heart disease risk is with simple lifestyle changes. These include:
- Get regular exercise to improve heart health, lower blood pressure and cholesterol. But take rest breaks or slow down during exercise or other physical activities to avoid triggering an angina episode. Talk to your doctor about what activities are right for you.
- Eat heart-healthy foods.
- Avoid eating rich, heavy meals and stop before you're full if overeating triggers angina.
- Avoid stressful situations or learn ways to handle stress if that triggers angina.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Keep your blood sugar well controlled if you have diabetes. Follow the diet, exercise and medication plan your doctor gave you.
- Take all medication as prescribed.
See other lifestyle tips to control angina and chest pain.
Medications for angina
There are five main types of medications used to treat angina. These drugs also lower heart attack and heart disease risk. They include: nitrates, aspirin, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and statin drugs.
- Nitrates (nitroglycerin): Nitroglycerin is the most commonly used drug to treat angina. Nitrates like nitroglycerin work by relaxing and widening the blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow to the heart. Nitroglycerin tablets, which dissolve under the tongue or between the cheek and gum, are used to relieve angina attacks. Nitroglycerin pills and skin patches are used to prevent an angina attack.
Common types of nitrates used to treat angina include:
- Aspirin: Aspirin reduces the blood's ability to form blood clots which makes it easier for blood to flow through narrowed arteries. This decreases the risk of angina, heart attack and stroke. Talk to your doctor before starting to take aspirin.
- Beta blockers: Beta blockers prevent the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline) from binding to beta-receptors on nerves. This helps the heart beat more slowly and with less force which in turn reduces blood pressure. Beta blockers also help to relax and widen blood vessels, improving blood flow.
Common types of beta blockers used for angina include:
- Calcium channel blockers: Calcium channel blockers increase blood flow to the heart muscle by relaxing the coronary arteries. They also lower blood pressure and reduce the workload on the heart, which allows the heart muscle to function with less oxygen and blood flow. Calcium channel blockers can also slow rapid heart rate and control irregular heart rhythms and may also prevent coronary artery spasms. Calcium channel blockers often prescribed to people who cannot tolerate beta blockers.
Common types of calcium channel blockers include:
Published: August 12, 2010