Why a diagnosis of angina could save your life

A diagnosis of angina can be a frightening thing. But it can also be the wake-up call needed to make the lifestyle changes to potentially save your life.

Angina is a syndrome; a collection of symptoms which can include pain or discomfort felt in the chest and other areas in the body. It is usually caused by coronary heart disease.

When your coronary arteries become narrowed, they don’t allow enough oxygenated blood to the heart at times when it needs more than usual, like when you’re physically active.

Angina is an important warning sign, because coronary heart disease can lead to a heart attack. A heart attack happens when a coronary artery becomes blocked by a blood clot. This is usually because fatty material called atheroma in the artery wall has become unstable. A piece may break off (rupture) and a blood clot may form around it, blocking the artery and starving your heart muscle of blood and oxygen. This can lead to irreversible damage to some of the heart muscle. 

Making changes to your lifestyle can help prevent your angina from getting worse and save you from having a heart attack.  

What’s the difference between angina and a heart attack?

It can be very difficult to tell if your pain or symptoms are angina or if they are due to a heart attack, as the symptoms can be similar. If it’s angina, your symptoms usually ease or go away after a few minutes’ rest, or after taking the medicines your doctor or nurse has prescribed for you, such as glyceryl trinitrate medicine (GTN). If you’re having a heart attack, your symptoms are less likely to ease or go away after resting or taking medicines. 

There’s a lot you can do to reduce your risk of having a heart attack.

There’s a lot you can do to prevent your angina or coronary heart disease from getting worse, leading to a heart attack.

What type of treatment you are offered will depend on how severe your angina is. 
Though there is no cure for coronary heart disease or way to remove the atheroma that has built up in the arteries, treatments and changes to your lifestyle can help to prevent your condition and your symptoms from getting worse. 

If you smoke, stop.

Smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease. Any type of smoking will make your condition worse. This includes cigarettes, pipes and cigars, and all other types of tobacco products such as shisha. Stopping smoking is the single most important step you can take to live longer. 

Cigarette put out on a specific date on a calendar

Control high blood pressure

High blood pressure makes your heart work harder and can damage the lining of your arteries. If you already have angina, high blood pressure could make your symptoms worse and increase the risk of having a heart attack. If you have high blood pressure, it’s essential that you try to reduce it. 

Your doctor may prescribe some medicines that will reduce the workload of your heart and help to control your blood pressure. You can also reduce your blood pressure by keeping to a healthy weight and shape, being active and cutting down on salt and alcohol.

In 1989, we helped to fund the first large trial that looked at whether statins could help to lower the risk of people with high cholesterol levels from developing coronary heart disease. People who took statins reduced their risk of having a first-time heart attack by nearly a third. substantially improve quality of life.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help to reduce your risk of coronary heart disease.

  • Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables each day
  • Choose healthier fats. This will improve your cholesterol levels and protect your heart
  • Aim to have two portions of fish a week. One of these portions should be oily fish – such as trout, sardines, herrings, mackerel or fresh tuna
  • Eat high fibre foods, especially oats, beans and lentils
  • Reduce the amount of salt and sugar you eat

It can be difficult to know what healthy eating advice to follow. Our booklet ‘Facts not fads’ helps you take control of your goal of weight loss.

Keep physically active

Physical activity will help to keep your heart healthy and help prevent your condition from getting worse. It also:

  • helps to control your blood glucose levels and blood pressure
  • helps to improve your cholesterol levels
  • helps you reach and stay a healthy weight, and
  • reduces stress levels.

Reduce stress 

If you have angina, it’s important to learn how to relax. Some people find that physical activity, yoga or other relaxation techniques help. You also need to identify situations that make you feel stressed and learn ways to cope with them effectively.

Our 10 minutes guide, ‘Take time out’ is full of tips and ideas to help you lower your stress levels and keep your body and mind healthy.

Jonathan’s story

Jonathan Kirkman, 46 from Peterborough was a fit guy who played rugby and golf regularly. But in 2002, when he was 33 he started having episodes of chest discomfort.

“I thought it was heartburn, so I took remedies for indigestion. But I started feeling excessively tired too. One day in 2003 my mum said I looked grey and insisted that I go and see my doctor. We have a family history of coronary heart disease, as my dad had a heart attack in his 50s. 

I was referred to a cardiologist. They did a stress test and an angiogram, which showed that I needed a triple heart bypass operation.

“The operation changed my life and my way of thinking. I gave up smoking and started eating well.”

The cardiac rehabilitation team were really supportive in my journey. I regularly coach rugby and enjoy cycling now. I live my life well and enjoy it to the full because life is too short.”

If you’ve been diagnosed with angina, making these essential changes like Jonathan did could just save your life. 

More useful information