Angina is a brief but recurrent chest pain caused by an inadequate supply of blood (which carries oxygen) to part of the heart muscle. The decreased blood supply is usually caused by a narrowing of the coronary arteries because of atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty deposits along the walls of the arteries.
The pain is usually described as an ache, pressure, tightness, or burning in the center of the chest or behind the breastbone. It can be brought on by exercise or by exposure to cold, stress, emotional upset, or a heavy meal, and is relieved by rest. Some people also have shortness of breath and palpitations along with chest pain.
Angina Pectoris Treatment. Angina is usually treated with nitroglycerin tablets which dissolve under the tongue. Nitroglycerin relaxes the walls of the blood vessels supplying the heart, allowing more blood and oxygen to reach the heart muscle.
Nitroglycerin may be taken to prevent angina when a situation arises in which an anginal attack usually occurs. It is also taken to treat an attack which is occurring. The most common side effects of nitroglycerin are headache and flushing.
Nitroglycerin tablets gradually lose their potency when exposed to air. Therefore, a container of nitroglycerin tablets which has been opened is good for only about two months. Nitroglycerin is also available as an ointment, or impregnated in a disposable pad.
In this way it is applied directly to the skin, providing continuous pain relief. Other medications used in Angina pectoris treatment are a longacting nitrite similar to nitroglycerin, isosorbide dinitrate (Isordil), and propanolol (Inderal), which reduce the amount of oxygen needed by the heart.
Another way to ward off anginal attacks is to avoid the activity which brings about the angina if possible. A controversial method of treating angina which has not been helped by medical treatment is coronary artery bypass surgery.
In this procedure a vein graft is taken from the leg and is used to bypass the blocked coronary artery, thus providing the heart muscle with an adequate supply of blood and oxygen. At this time, the procedure is thought to be effective only when certain arteries are blocked.
The costs and risks of surgery as well as the pain and disability involved must also be considered. While surgery may help some people with angina, it is not an appropriate angina treatment for everyone.