Stable angina is a type of angina, and angina is the reduction of blood flow to the heart. If your heart does not receive enough blood, that also means it does not receive enough oxygen. Angina often causes pain and can be triggered by emotional or physical stress.
The most common form of angina, stable angina is a predictable pattern of chest pain, which can be tracked when you experience pain during an activity. Proper tracking of stable angina can help you manage the condition.
Unstable angina occurs suddenly and worsens over time – this type of angina can eventually lead to a heart attack.
Causes, risks, and prevalence of stable angina
In stable angina, the heart does not receive enough of oxygenated blood for proper functioning, so it has to work harder as a result. Factors that contribute to stable angina include narrowing of the arteries as a result of plaque buildup, extra weight, a history of heart disease, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and lack of physical activity.
Large meals, strenuous activity, or extremely hot and cold temperatures can also trigger stable angina.
Eight percent of men and three percent of women aged 55 to 64 have or have had angina. Prevalence of angina increases with age, and rates of angina tend to be higher among men and women from low socio-economic groups.
Signs and symptoms of stable angina
A person with stable angina may experience pain in the chest that feels more like fullness or pressure in the center of the chest. This pain may also feel like a squeezing sensation and may spread to the neck, arms, and shoulders.
Other signs and symptoms of stable angina include:
- shortness of breath
- profuse sweating
These symptoms may only occur during times of physical or emotional stress and are usually short-lived, unlike in unstable angina where symptoms are prolonged.
Diagnosis and tests for stable angina
Stable angina is diagnosed through different heart tests. The first is an electrocardiogram, which measures electrical activity of the heart and monitors heart rhythm. The other is angiography which is an X-ray of the blood vessels allowing your doctor to assess the blood flow.
You may also need to take a stress test to determine if physical activity triggers your angina. In some cases, blood tests will be advised to measure cholesterol and C-reactive proteins, because high levels of these increase the risk of developing heart disease.
Treatment options for stable angina
Both medical interventions and lifestyle changes can help treat stable angina. Lifestyle changes include adjusting your exercise routine, eating a healthy diet, losing weight, quitting smoking, and managing cholesterol and blood pressure.
Medication such as nitroglycerine can help relieve pain, and other medications may be prescribed by your doctor for other conditions you may have such as high blood pressure or cholesterol to further reduce your risk of heart disease. Blood-thinning medications may help you prevent blood clot formation, too.
Lastly, in some cases, stable angina may be treated with surgery repairing the heart or arteries. A common surgery, known as angioplasty, involves a small balloon inserted into the artery and inflated in order to widen the artery. A stent is then added to keep your artery open.
When to call a doctor for stable angina
Call 911 right away if chest pain is new or sudden. If you are diagnosed with stable angina, call 911 if the pain does not improve within five minutes, does not go away after three doses of nitroglycerine, is worsening, or returns after going away after a dose of nitroglycerine.
You should also see your doctor if your symptoms are progressively worsening with each attack, if angina occurs at rest, if you are more fatigued, if you feel light-headed, if your heartbeat is slowing, if you have difficulties taking your medication, and if you experience any other unusual symptoms.
Prognosis of Stable Angina
Prognosis for stable angina is typically good as the condition will improve with medication. Adhering to a healthy lifestyle can help improve prognosis. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, not smoking, and eating a healthy and balanced diet.
Without making these lifestyle changes, you may continue to experience periodic chest pains. Furthermore, not living healthy could increase your risk of heart disease and complications such as heart attack, sudden death by abnormal heart rhythms, and unstable angina.