Angina: Understanding the Heart’s Cry for Oxygen

Angina, often referred to as angina pectoris, is a type of chest pain or discomfort stemming from an inadequate oxygen-rich blood supply to the heart muscle. This reduced blood flow is usually caused by narrowed or blocked coronary arteries.



Angina isn’t a disease in itself but rather a symptom of an underlying heart condition, usually coronary artery disease (CAD). It acts as an alarm system for potential heart issues, and while it might be alarming to experience, it’s the body’s way of signaling a problem.


Different Types of Angina

  • Stable Angina (Angina Pectoris): The most familiar type and occurs when the heart is working harder than usual. It has a regular pattern and can be anticipated. Episodes typically last for a short duration and can be relieved by rest or medication.
  • Unstable Angina: This is unpredictable and might occur even at rest. Episodes are more prolonged and intense than stable angina, and rest or medication might not always provide relief. This condition is dangerous and requires urgent medical attention as it may precede a heart attack.
  • Variant Angina (Prinzmetal’s Angina): Caused by a spasm in coronary arteries, it can occur at rest, and even in individuals without significant coronary artery disease. However, this type is rarer than the others.
  • Microvascular Angina: This type can be more severe and longer-lasting than the other types. It’s caused by spasms within the walls of the heart’s tiniest arteries. Medications that relax these tiny blood vessels can help.



The primary symptom of angina is chest discomfort. However, the nature and severity can vary:

  1. Pain: A sensation of pressure, squeezing, tightness, or ache in the chest.
  2. Radiation of Discomfort: Pain can spread to the arms, neck, jaw, shoulder, or back.
  3. Shortness of Breath
  4. Fatigue
  5. Nausea
  6. Dizziness
  7. Sweating



The primary cause of angina is reduced blood flow to the heart muscle:

  • Coronary Artery Disease: The most common cause, it involves the narrowing of coronary arteries due to the buildup of fatty deposits.
  • Coronary Artery Spasm: Temporary tightening of the heart arteries.
  • Coronary Microvascular Disease: Affects the heart’s smallest arteries and might not involve blockages.


Risk Factors

Several factors increase the risk of developing angina:

  • Tobacco Use: Damages the interior of arteries and contributes to the buildup of fatty plaques.
  • High Blood Pressure: Damages arteries and speeds up hardening and narrowing.
  • High Blood Cholesterol or Triglyceride Levels: Contributes to the buildup of plaques.
  • Diabetes: Increases the risk of CAD.
  • Age: Men older than 45 and women older than 55 have a higher risk.
  • Lack of Exercise: Contributes to other risk factors like obesity and hypertension.
  • Obesity: Increases the risk of CAD and diabetes.


How to Avoid It

To reduce the risk of angina:

  • Quit Smoking: Avoid tobacco and limit exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Control Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels: Regular check-ups and medication if prescribed.
  • Exercise Regularly: Helps maintain a healthy weight and controls blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Eat a Balanced Diet: Focus on whole foods, limit saturated fats, and reduce salt.
  • Manage Diabetes: Regular check-ups and adherence to medication.
  • Limit Alcohol Consumption: Drink in moderation.
  • Manage Stress: Find healthy ways to cope, like meditation or deep breathing exercises.


When to See the Doctor

Angina signifies an underlying heart issue:

  • New or Different Symptoms: If angina changes in frequency, duration, or triggers, seek immediate care.
  • Sudden Onset: If angina or chest discomfort suddenly hits you without any discernible pattern or if it worsens, it might be a sign of a heart attack. Call emergency services.


If left untreated, angina can lead to a heart attack, which occurs when the blood supply to the heart is completely blocked. The longer the blood supply is cut off, the more damage the heart sustains.


When a patient reports symptoms of angina, the doctor might recommend:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): Measures electrical signals as they travel through the heart.
  • Stress Test: Measures the heart’s performance under stress, which can be induced by exercise or medication.
  • Echocardiogram: Utilizes sound waves to produce images of the heart.
  • Nuclear Stress Test: Tracks the flow of blood through the heart and arteries using radioactive material and special cameras.
  • Coronary Angiography: Uses a special dye and X-rays to see how blood flows through the heart.
  • CT Angiography: Employs X-rays to gather detailed images of the heart and blood vessels.


Treatment Options

  1. Lifestyle Changes: A primary approach includes quitting smoking, adhering to a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and managing stress.
  2. Medications: Doctors may prescribe nitrates (like nitroglycerin) to temporarily open arterial blood vessels. Beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and ACE inhibitors can also be effective.
  3. Angioplasty and Stenting: A procedure wherein a balloon is used to open narrowed arteries, often followed by inserting a stent to keep the artery open.
  4. Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery: A procedure where blood vessels from another part of the body are used to bypass narrowed or blocked coronary arteries, enabling blood flow to the heart muscle to improve.



In conclusion, angina is a multifaceted cardiovascular symptom with a myriad of triggers, types, and potential treatments. As the precursor to more serious heart conditions, understanding and addressing angina is crucial for maintaining cardiovascular health. Proactive measures, regular check-ups, and adherence to medical advice can significantly reduce the risks associated with angina.



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American Falls


Idaho Falls


Contact Information

(208) 233-2273

(208) 233-2490


1515 E Clark St
Pocatello, ID 83201


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Malad, ID 83252


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American Falls, ID 83211


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Blackfoot, ID 83221


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Idaho Falls, ID 83404


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Burley, ID 83318