When angina can lead to a heart attack

Johannesburg – The World Heart Federation (WHF) has emphasised that now more than ever, during the Covid-19 pandemic, to be aware of heart health and be weary of any symptoms of angina.

Endorsed locally by the SA Heart Association, the WHF, Global Heart Hub, which represents people with heart disease, together with International pharmaceutical group, Servier, the ‘Use heart to act now on angina’ campaign was launched internationally this month.

Dr Blanche Cupido, President of the SA Heart Association says there is a general lack of awareness and confusion about what angina really is.

“People talk about it as if it is a condition – but it is a symptom of a condition, which is usually coronary heart disease – and must be taken seriously. However, it is not seen as a priority condition yet it should be. Doctors need to be more vigilant in investigating suspected cases, and patients need to be more aware and take responsibility for managing their condition.”

Cupido explained that Angina is pain or discomfort in the chest caused by lack of oxygen flow to the heart.

This could be due to a blockage in the main coronary arteries, or dysfunction of small heart vessels.

The discomfort feels like pressure or squeezing, and could also be felt in the neck, jaw, shoulder and back. It could even feel like indigestion or be mistaken for stress or menopause symptoms. It usually occurs during physical activity or at times of emotional stress but can also occur while at rest. It usually lasts for a short while, perhaps five minutes or less.

Cupido said that while angina is not usually deadly, she says it is a warning sign that you could be at risk of a heart attack or stroke.

“Angina needs to be taken more seriously because it is a symptom of coronary heart disease, which is the greatest killer across the globe – with almost 18 million deaths in 2016 according to the World Health 0rganization.

Risk factors include tobacco smoking, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels, a family history of heart disease, physical inactivity, obesity and stress.

Men older than 45 and women older than 55 are at greater risk of angina than younger adults.

It is important to know the warning signs of angina and take them seriously, because with treatment and lifestyle changes you can control the more serious risks and health issues associated with angina,” said Cupido.

She warned that women are especially disadvantaged when it comes to coronary heart disease and access to care.

“No one expects them to have it – but postmenopausal women are at higher risk than men of a similar age. It is therefore vital that people advocate for themselves: if you suspect angina, you need to make a case to get proper care for yourself.”

Cupido encouraged patients to describe their symptoms carefully, and to go to the doctor with clear facts om what they experienced.

“The world is seeing an epidemic of cardiovascular disease, which is a real tragedy. Angina is a symptom which is an ‘alarm bell’ to warn you. Not all chest pain is cardiac/angina, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and have it investigated by a doctor. The Covid-19 pandemic will go away, but cardiovascular disease will still be with us. This deadly condition should be faced with more seriousness.”

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