Angina isn’t a disease; it’s a symptom of an underlying heart problem, and physicians say if left untreated, it can turn into a fatal problem.
Angina is a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscle. It’s usually a symptom of coronary heart disease, the most common heart disease in the United States.
Although it is a chest pain, angina is different from a heart attack.
“The difference is when someone is having a heart attack, it’s caused by a rupture of plaque. It’s an acute situation where blood flood is blocked,” said Terri Gingerich, Cardiovascular Service Line Director at Porter Regional Hospital.
On the other hand, angina has some predictability to it, she said.
“You may have chest pain when you become more active that goes away when you rest,” she said.
Patients who have angina describe it as a feeling of squeezing, pressure, heaviness or tightness in their chests. Angina can be a recurring problem or can appear suddenly for the first time.
“With angina, it gets progressively worse over time,” Gingerich said. “It’s from a plaque build-up in your arteries. Although you’re still getting blood supply to your heart, the plaque reduces the amount of blood supply and you feel that through chest pains.”
When someone experiences a heart attack, she said, no blood supply is getting to the heart. If someone’s angina is not treated, it can lead to a heart attack.
Because angina occurs over a period of time, patients with this type of chest pains are under medical supervision due to the disease in their arteries, Gingerich said.
“Because angina is a little more predictable, what the physician tries to do is control it through medication,” she said. “If that doesn’t work, they might suggest some sort of intervention like balloon angioplasty to open the arteries more.”
Experts believe nearly 7 million U.S. residents suffer from angina, and it does not discriminate between men and women. However, even though younger people can suffer from angina, it typically occurs more frequently in older adults.
“As the aging process occurs, it becomes more prevalent,” Gingerich said.
Medical professionals say the best way to prevent angina is to make the same lifestyle changes you might improve upon if you were diagnosed with the condition.
“Control your blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes,” Gingerich said.
She also added to eat a healthy diet, quit smoking and reduce stress levels.
Because chest pains can be difficult to differentiate, Gingerich says to always seek medical attention right away.
“Either way, it’s certainly something you have to be in the care of a physician for,” she said.