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"What is angina?"


My cardiologist just diagnosed my as having angina. I couldn't really make sense of what he was telling me. What are my different treatment options, and how can I decide which one is best for me? How much will I have to change my lifestyle to accommodate angina?


Angina is a medical condition that results from insufficient supply of oxygen to the heart. There are several causes to be considered, but the most common by far is atherosclerosis, or plaque build-up in the blood vessels that supply the heart. Atherosclerosis is caused by cholesterol build-up in the walls of the blood vessels.

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As the plaque grows it can narrow the blood vessel and decrease the blood flow to your heart. If the plaques are stable and do not rupture, they can limit the blood flow to your heart during anything that increases the oxygen demands (like exercise or stress) on your heart can cause the symptoms of angina. If the plaque breaks open a clot can form. If the clot is broken open quickly you will experience the symptoms of angina, but if it does not break open quickly can lead to a heart attack. One final cause of angina occurs when the arteries of your heart spasm and decrease the blood supply to the cardiac muscle. In truth, all three causes can be at play at the same time. The treatment options are broken into lifestyle and medication. By far the most important lifestyle changes you can make are to eat healthy, exercise (under the supervision of your cardiologist), and stop smoking and/or decrease your exposure to others that are smoking. The most important medication is aspirin. A baby aspirin a day has significant benefits and can decrease the likelihood that a clot will form in the arteries to your heart. The next most important medication options are statins like simvastation, atorvastatin (Lipitor), or rosuvastatin (Crestor). These medications have been shown to be very beneficial in coronary artery disease that can cause angina. Another very common medication used is nitroglycerin, which will help decrease the symptoms of angina when it occurs. Your cardiologist can help discuss the best options for you.

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