WATCH LIVE | Sunday Times Connect digital discussion about heart health

Angina can express itself in many ways — are you listening to the language of your heart?

23 September 2020 - 14:59

September 29 marks World Heart Day when the global spotlight falls on all things relating to heart health. One often overlooked, yet common heart condition, is angina, a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart, and a warning sign that something may be wrong. 

However, over the last decade, angina has changed its face with many patients suffering atypical angina, resulting in frequent under-recognition by doctors and putting an increased burden on society.


Join the Sunday Times Connect digital discussion in a conversation about heart health, moderated by Joanne Joseph.

The panel includes cardiologists Dr David Jankelow and Dr Martin Tawanda Butau who will share practical advice on all matters of the heart, including understanding the symptoms, triggers and treatment of angina, as well as the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.

Date: September 29 2020
Time: 1pm — 2pm

Join the Sunday Times Connect digital discussion in a conversation about heart health on September 29 2020 at 1pm.
Join the Sunday Times Connect digital discussion in a conversation about heart health on September 29 2020 at 1pm.
Image: Getty Images/Layla Bird

What does angina feel like?

Angina is an uncomfortable feeling that may include tightness, heaviness or pain in your chest, which may spread to your arms, neck, jaw, shoulders, back or stomach.

People sometimes describe the feeling as a dull ache. The symptoms are not the same for everyone. Some people feel the pain or tightness only in their arm, neck, stomach or jaw. For others the pain or tightness is severe, while there are those who may feel nothing more than a mild discomfort or pressure.

You might experience angina on a cold day, or if you’re walking after a meal. Being terribly upset can sometimes trigger an angina episode, or you may get angina if you’re exerting yourself — for example, during exercise.

Other symptoms of angina may include dizziness, fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath, and sweating.

The symptoms of angina usually fade after a few minutes’ rest, or after taking medication that your doctor may have prescribed.

Though angina is relatively common, it can still be difficult to distinguish from other types of chest pain, such as the discomfort of indigestion. If you have unexplained chest pain, it’s advisable to seek medical attention right away.

The symptoms need to be evaluated immediately by a doctor who can determine whether you have stable angina, or unstable angina, which can be a precursor to a heart attack.

Stable angina

You may have angina that comes on with a particular amount of activity, but resolves quickly with rest, is well controlled with medicines, and doesn’t become more frequent or more severe. This is known as stable angina.

Characteristics of stable angina

  • develops when your heart works harder, such as when you exercise or climb stairs;
  • can usually be predicted and the pain is usually similar to previous types of chest pain you've had;
  • lasts a short time, perhaps five minutes or less;
  • disappears sooner if you rest or use your angina medication; 
  • the severity, duration and type of angina can vary; and
  • new or different symptoms may signal a more dangerous form of angina (unstable angina) or a heart attack.

Unstable angina

Unstable angina is when you have symptoms that you have developed for the first time, or angina which was previously stable but has recently got worse or changed in pattern. For example, your angina symptoms may come on after doing much less activity or with less stress than usual, and may even come on while you are resting.

Characteristics of unstable angina (a medical emergency)

  • occurs even at rest;
  • is a change in your usual pattern of angina;
  • is unexpected;
  • is usually more severe and lasts longer than stable angina, maybe 30 minutes or longer;
  • may not disappear with rest or use of angina medication; and
  • might signal a heart attack.

What causes angina?

The most common cause of angina is coronary heart disease. There are certain things about your lifestyle or family history that mean you may be more likely to get coronary heart disease. These are known as risk factors. You are more likely to get coronary heart disease if you:

  • smoke any form of tobacco;
  • have high blood pressure;
  • have a high blood cholesterol level;
  • have too little physical activity;
  • are overweight or obese;
  • have diabetes; and
  • if you have a family history of premature heart disease (this means if your father or a brother has, or had, angina or a heart attack before the age of 55, or if your mother or a sister has, or had an angina or a heart attack before the age of 65.

Preventing angina

You can help prevent angina by making the same lifestyle changes that might improve your symptoms if you already have angina.

These include:

  • quitting smoking;
  • monitoring and controlling other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes;
  • eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight;
  • increasing your physical activity after you get a check-up from your doctor. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. It’s recommended that you get 10 minutes of strength training twice a week and stretch three times a week for five to 10 minutes each time;
  • reducing your stress level;
  • limiting alcohol consumption to two drinks or fewer a day for men, and one drink a day or less for women; and
  • getting an annual flu shot to avoid heart complications from the virus.

If you are diagnosed with angina, taking the antianginal medicines you’ve been prescribed by your doctor and making lifestyle changes including eating a healthy diet and losing weight if you’re overweight, will all help you to lead a normal, symptom-free, healthy life, and prevent the occurrence of an event such as a heart attack.

This World Heart Day, what’s most important is to learn the language of your heart. Talk about your symptoms with your doctor, even if it seems unimportant. Sharing your concerns and communicating openly can help you both make smart choices about your health.

#LetsGetAnginaUnderControl #Servier #SAHeartforyou #WorldHeartDay