What is angina or chest pain?
Angina is a chest pain caused by a brief and insufficient flow of blood to an area of the heart. The pain feels as if something were squeezing or putting pressure inside our chest causing a sensation of having a heavy weight on top of us.
This chest pain can irradiate to either one or both arms but most often it does to the left one. At times we can feel heaviness or numbness on the shoulder or in the arm, from the elbow to the fingers. In rare occasions, the symptoms of angina can be felt in the neck, throat, jaw, ears, stomach, or even between the shoulder blades. If the chest pain occurs when the patient is making a physical effort, he can also have difficulty breathing at the same time.
What triggers an episode of angina or chest pain?
Most of the times, angina is triggered by the following events:
1. Walking fast
2. Carrying a heavy weight
3. Psychological stress
4. Very cold weather
5. Heavy meals
When these triggering factors stop, the pain usually goes down in 10 minutes.
What causes angina or chest pain?
In most cases, the cause of angina is atherosclerosis, a build-up of fat as well as a loss of elasticity of the coronary arteries, the ones wrapping the heart which function is to carry oxygen and nutrients to the heart. Because of these two factors, the space inside the coronary arteries narrows causing not enough blood to reach the heart.
Other causes of angina
Angina can worsen by the following health conditions:
1. Tachycardia or abnormally rapid heartbeat
3. Disease of the valves of the heart
4. Hypertrophy of the heart muscle
5. Spasms in the coronary arteries
Risk factors for angina or chest pain
As we have seen, atherosclerosis is almost always at the root of angina or chest pain because it causes the heart muscle not to receive enough blood, especially when we make a physical effort. Therefore, the best way to prevent angina is to prevent atherosclerosis.
Risk factors for atherosclerosis
1. Family history of atherosclerosis
2. High cholesterol, especially LDL
3. High blood pressure
5. Diabetes type 1 and 2
8. Lack of regular physical activity
How can you prevent angina?
In general, preventing angina means eliminating the risk factors mentioned above. The following advice can help you to accomplish this task:
1. If your weight is a risk for your health, lose weight.
2. Eat a healthy diet
3. Do not smoke.
4. Walk at least half an hour every day
5. If you have diabetes type 1 or 2, follow your doctor’s advice.
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Are you following a balanced diet?
Check with your doctor or dietitian if your diet is in accordance with their guidelines. A lot has been said about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, but the truth of the matter is that it is the diet that for centuries has protected the Mediterranean people from heart disease and many other chronic diseases.
As you may be aware, it is a diet based on fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, aromatic herbs, olive oil, fish, seafood, and very little red meat. It is also low in saturated fat which is mainly found in meats and whole dairies.
Final thoughts on angina
The word angina has its origins in the Latin language; it means strangulation or narrowness; in other words, something that presses, that is too tight. As you may guess or you may have experience, this type of chest pain is nothing to be taken lightly as it can be fatal.
The best course of action is to eliminate the risk factors above mentioned. A healthy diet and regular physical activity will go a long way to prevent angina or chest pain. It may require some changes in your life but the pay-off would be a longer life without heart disease.