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Angina

Everything you need to know about living well with angina

  • Introduction
  • Types
  • Symptoms
  • Daily Living
  • Support
  • Glossary

Introduction

If you, or someone you know, have been given a diagnosis of angina, you may have a lot of unanswered questions.

We are here to help explain the symptoms of angina and the treatment options available so that those living with angina can be as well informed and independent as possible.

If you are concerned about any of the angina symptoms you read here, please consult your GP.

Introduction

What is angina?

Angina is a pain or discomfort felt in the chest area, and often in the arms, neck, stomach or jaw, that occurs when the blood supply to the muscles of the heart is restricted. It is a symptom of coronary heart disease. If you would like more detailed information on angina, the British Heart Foundation is a good starting point.

What causes angina?

The heart needs oxygen-rich blood to function correctly and blood is supplied to it by two large coronary arteries. Fatty substances in the blood can clog these arteries and make them narrower in a process called atherosclerosis.

This is caused by:

    • Smoking
    • High blood pressure
    • Diets containing high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol
    • Type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes
    • Lack of exercise
    • Age
    • Family history

The narrowing of arteries causes angina symptoms to develop and marks the beginning of coronary heart disease. Some people find that certain factors bring on their symptoms. These ‘angina triggers’ often include:

    • Physical activity
    • Emotional upset, stress or worry
    • Cold weather
    • Eating a large meal

There is a helpful video on the NHS website, featuring a cardiologist who gives a full angina explanation including information about the symptoms of angina and angina treatment available.

Did you know... "Angina is very common."

Types of Angina

There are two main types of angina which are defined by what triggers angina symptoms.

As angina is directly linked to the blood flow to your heart, it is important to take your symptoms seriously. If you’ve been diagnosed with stable angina, you’ll likely know what has caused your symptoms to present but you must be sure to rest and take your prescribed medicine to prevent further complications to your health. If your angina has occurred out of the blue with no obvious triggers then it’s vital you seek emergency treatment quickly as you may be at risk of experiencing a heart attack.
Introduction

    Stable angina: out of the two types of angina, this is not life threatening and is less severe, but it is a serious warning sign of a possible future heart attack or stroke. This type of angina is brought on by a specific trigger (e.g. exercise) and often occurs in a regular pattern. The treatment for angina of this sort is medicine and rest, with pain usually subsiding afterwards
    Unstable angina: This type of angina is dangerous and requires emergency treatment. It usually signifies that a heart attack is very likely to happen soon. Unstable angina attacks can happen suddenly with no obvious triggers. It is an unpredictable and more painful type of angina. It is possible to be given a diagnosis of angina of this type for the first time, with no history of angina at all

Did you know... "Angina is caused by a narrowing of the arteries pumping blood to the heart."

Angina Symptoms

The most common symptom of angina is a feeling of pain or discomfort in your chest that is often described as tight, dull or heavy.

The pain can spread from your chest to your left arm, neck, jaw and back. Some people say the pain can feel like indigestion.

Other angina symptoms that might occur in addition to chest pain include:

    • Breathlessness
    • Dizziness
    • Fatigue
    • Feeling sick
    • Restlessness

Introduction

More symptoms

If you have already been given an angina diagnosis, you may experience pain or discomfort that you can manage by taking your prescribed medication – read on to find out more about angina treatments in the next section.

If you have been given a diagnosis of angina and have an attack but feel that it is different to normal, or if your medication does not work, you could be having a heart attack. Symptoms of angina and symptoms of a heart attack are similar but a heart attack feels more severe. If you have a heart attack you may feel:

    • Crushing pain, heaviness or tightness in your chest
    • Pain in your arm, neck, throat, jaw, stomach or back
    • Light-headed or sick
    • Short of breath
    • Sweaty

If you experience any of the above symptoms, call 999 immediately and alert someone close by if possible. If you have a family member / friend with angina or any other heart conditions, visit the British Red Cross website to find out how to administer first aid in the event of a heart attack.

Did you know... "There is treatment for angina."

Living with Angina

It is possible to live a full and active life if you are given an angina diagnosis, although it will likely affect your daily routine to some degree.

Your personal experience of living with angina will depend upon the type of angina you have and how effective your angina treatment is on your symptoms. You will be advised by your healthcare professionals to look at ways in which you can improve your overall health including changing your diet, increasing your exercise levels and, perhaps, stopping smoking.

Read on to discover the effects of living with angina, what angina treatments are available, and why a healthy balanced diet for angina patients is important.

Introduction

Impact on daily living

Living with angina can be challenging. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may find some daily tasks difficult. For example, if exercise is one of your angina triggers, you may find you have an attack when you over exert yourself. If cold weather triggers your angina, you may find winter challenging. You can manage the effects of angina attacks by taking your medication and resting. This should help you feel better soon and give you the energy to continue your daily tasks.

Angina causes some people to feel worried or stressed, which can have a negative impact on their daily life and overall health. If you are finding it difficult to manage your worries, try to talk about them with loved ones, friends or your GP. See our section on angina support for more information.

If you feel you need some equipment at home to help with daily tasks which are more challenging due to your angina symptoms, NRS Healthcare can help. We have a team of Occupational Therapists (OTs) to advise you how to use ‘daily living aids’ in the home to make things easier. Here are some tasks that some people can find difficult because of the symptoms of angina, and examples of the angina aids that are available to help:

    Feeling breathless and needing to rest when out and about: A 2-in-1 Rollator & Transit Chair gives you support when walking and a convenient place to rest if you experience an angina attack
    Feeling dizzy when standing and preparing food: A height adjustable Perching Stool offers a convenient resting place where you can carry out tasks around the home comfortably
    Finding it difficult to exercise in cold weather: A Pedal Exerciser is a perfect way to practice steady exercise from a seated position in the home, so as not to over exert yourself
If you would like to speak to one of our OTs, they are available on live online chat or by telephone: 0345 121 8111

Angina treatment

If you have an angina diagnosis, you are likely to be prescribed a medication called glyceryl trinitrate (GNT) in a spray or tablet that dissolves under your tongue. This angina treatment works by relaxing and widening the blood vessels supplying blood to your heart. You may experience mild side effects as soon as you take it, for example, headaches, flushing and dizziness. Many people are able to manage their angina symptoms using this type of treatment for angina.

You may be prescribed alternative medications or advised to use a combination of medications as treatment for angina. These include:

    • Beta-blockers
    • Calcium channel blockers
    • Long acting nitrates
    • Ivabradine
    • Nicorandil
    • Ranolazine

You may also be prescribed medicines that reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke, including:

    • Statins
    • Low-dose aspirin
    • ACE inhibitors

If medication does not work for you or stops working, you may be advised to have surgery, which is usually one of the following procedures:

If you require further information about medications or types of surgery used as treatment for angina, please see the NHS website

Your GP or cardiologist will also strongly advise you to improve your overall health, diet and exercise levels in order to decrease your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Read on to find out more about how to improve your diet for angina.

Angina diet

diet

Eating a healthy diet is essential to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It may also stop your angina from getting any worse.

A balanced diet that includes lots of fruit, vegetables and fibre, with fewer foods that are high in saturated fat, is extremely important if you have heart disease. Reducing your blood cholesterol is also necessary, which you can achieve by limiting the amount of foods you eat that contain saturated fats. These foods cause harmful types of cholesterol which create a build-up of fatty deposits in your arteries. Saturated fats are found in:

    • Dairy e.g. butter, ghee, lard, cream
    • Fatty meats e.g. sausages
    • Cheeses – especially hard cheese
    • Sweet foods e.g. biscuits, cakes, chocolate
    • Some oils e.g. palm oil and coconut oil

Increasing the amount of ‘good fats’ in your diet can actually help lower your cholesterol. These can be found in:

    • Nuts and seeds
    • Avocados
    • Oily fish
    • Olive oil, rapeseed oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil

Reducing your salt intake is also important because this will help lower your blood pressure. Remember that pre-packaged foods such as soups, ready meals, sandwiches, all contain salt at fairly high levels. Reducing your alcohol consumption is also highly recommended if you have been given an angina diagnosis.

If you need more advice or encouragement to follow a healthier diet for angina, speak to your GP. You may also like to learn more about eating ‘5 a day’ on the NHS Live Well site.

Exercise for angina

Regular exercise is really important for everyone in order to lower the risk of developing heart disease and angina. Exercise makes the heart stronger so it can pump more blood through the body. It also reduces the levels of bad cholesterol that cause fatty build-up in the arteries.

If you have been given an angina diagnosis, it is even more important to exercise in order to reduce any further damage to the heart, lower your cholesterol and lower your blood pressure.

You should look to undertake an activity which increases your heart rate such as walking, cycling, swimming or jogging. There are many other small changes you can make to increase your exercise levels through the day, for example:

    • Walk to the shops instead of driving
    • Take the stairs instead of the lift
    • Walk the dog
    • Do some gardening
    • Play with your children or grandchildren

Exercising for 30 minutes each day is enough to help reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. Splitting the 30 minutes into 3 x 10 minute sessions is a great starting point, building up to longer sessions. Exercise and a healthy diet can help you lose weight, which reduces the strain on your heart.

If you are unsure about how to begin an angina exercise regime or if exercise is one of your angina triggers, speak to your GP who will be able to refer you to a physiotherapist. He or she will be able to develop a program of exercise specifically for you, taking into account your angina symptoms.

The British Heart Foundation website offers advice and guidance on staying active and even includes a simple guide to exercises for angina.


Smoking and angina

If you are a smoker who has been diagnosed with angina, one of the essential things you must do is to give up the cigarettes.

Smoking damages the lining of your arteries which leads to narrowing, therefore causing angina. Smoking also increases adrenaline and reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood – which all puts the heart under more pressure to work harder.

It is never too late to stop, and there is an abundance of help and support available to you. Speak to your GP or NHS Stop Smoking advisor who can help you.

The NHS also offers 10 online tips on how you can stop smoking which we encourage you to take a look at.


Angina and employment

Many people who have received a diagnosis of angina, continue to work. Some people will choose to change jobs, retrain, or work fewer hours with less stress. Everyone is different and you will decide what is best for you. If you are unsure about whether or not you can continue working with angina, speak to your GP and cardiologist. You may also wish to discuss your role and tasks with your employer or occupational health adviser.


Products

At NRS Healthcare, we offer a huge range of equipment that can help those who are older, or have a health condition, live more independently. Below you’ll find some of our most popular products which can help relieve some of the symptoms of angina and enable those living with the condition to do more things for themselves – whether at home or when out and about.

Did you know... "Many things can cause angina, including smoking, fatty diets and lack of exercise."

Support for Angina

Remember – you are not alone!

There is a lot of support out there for people with angina and heart disease.

Our resources section points you to a selection of key websites that give a more in-depth angina explanation. You should never feel as though you are alone in your angina diagnosis. There is a network of healthcare professionals to offer angina support, and a number of communities and charities offering angina help and advice.

Introduction

Communities

British Heart Foundation Online forum:
British Heart Foundation Local Heart Support Groups: Telephone to find your nearest one or go online
Tel: 0300 330 3311
Web: CHSS (only in Scotland) Heart Support Groups

Resources

NHS Choices – helps to explain health conditions in more detail
Did you know... "Many causes of angina can be monitored and regulated."

Glossary

Unsure what something means? Checkout our Glossary section below.

Although we always try to explain things as simply and as clearly as possible, sometimes it’s necessary to use the correct medical terminology.

Medical terms are often known for being tricky to pronounce and if you’re not an expert in the subject, they can also be a little difficult to understand. Below, we’ve put together a list of terms used on this page along with a brief explanation of what they mean to help make your understanding of angina as straightforward as possible.

Introduction

Atherosclerosis
    – a potentially serious condition where arteries become clogged with fatty substances called plaques, or atheroma

Cholesterol
    – Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is primarily made in the body. Some cholesterol is good for the body, whilst some is bad and causes a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries (one of the main causes of heart disease). Good cholesterol actually helps decrease the amount of the ‘bad’ cholesterol

Coronary heart disease
    – a condition in which fatty substances build up in the walls of the arteries that run to your heart. This causes them to narrow, which can reduce the supply of oxygen to your heart

Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG)
    – an operation on the heart where a section of blood vessel is taken from another part of the body and used to re-route the flow of blood past a blocked or narrow section of artery

Glyceryl trinitrate
    – used as a treatment for angina and other heart conditions. Part of a family of medications called nitrates which help relax the blood vessels in the body (causing them to widen) and this reduces the strain on the heart, making it easier for the heart to pump blood around your body

Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI)
    – a heart operation where a narrowed section of artery is widened using a tiny tube called a stent

Last updated on 18/09/2018

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