Introduction to Angina

Angina can be defined as chest pain or discomfort caused by an inadequate supply of blood flow to the heart. Oxygen is transported within the body through blood. The blood vessels within the body transport blood to various organs, including the brain and heart. Some of the main blood vessels that support cardiac function are coronary arteries, which provide blood to the heart. Any blockages or obstructions in these arteries can cause restricted or reduced blood flow to the associated organs. Since the oxygen now takes longer to reach the organs or is reduced, it can lead to poor functioning of the muscles and even cause pain. 

The American Heart Association reports that many people who have suffered from angina have experienced pain similar to that of indigestion. Shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and sweating were also reported. Males and females can experience different symptoms. People assigned female at birth can feel discomfort in their abdomen, jaw, neck, throat, or back, while people assigned male at birth can feel pain (more than discomfort) in their chest, shoulders, and neck. 

Types of Angina 

There are different types of angina. The following outlines the difference between them and how you can identify each type:

Stable Angina

Angina pectoris or stable angina is the most common type of chest pain. It occurs when there is an overload on the heart, which means that the heart is working overtime and harder than it has to. It usually lasts for about five minutes and can be relieved using medicine and rest. It can be caused by stress, heavy meals, emotional distress, drastic temperature differences, and smoking. These episodes of pain are not surprising and are usually experienced during stress or physically exertive activities such as running.

Unstable Angina

These attacks are unpredictable and, unlike stable angina, may not have specific triggers. They can occur when you are sleeping or resting and can last longer than stable angina. Medicine or rest may not ease the pain and can eventually cause a heart attack. A heart attack is when the heart stops working due to a lack of blood supply. This happens due to an obstruction in the main arteries, due to fat build-up in these blood vessels or due to blood clots. 

Variant Angina 

This type of pain is severe and usually occurs through the night when you are sleeping or resting. It is usually treated with medical aid. This type differs in the cause: the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart can spasm on account of certain triggers. These triggers are stress, extremely cold weather, smoking, and medicines used to treat vasodilation (via tightening blood vessels). This type is rarer than stable and unstable angina. 

Effects of Alcohol on the Heart

Scientifically, alcohol consumption, in excess, can increase the level of fats in the blood. These fats, also known as triglycerides and cholesterol, can lead to fat deposits inside the blood vessels. These fats can accumulate, causing plaques or fatty build-ups. These eventually cause obstructions in the flow of blood. 

This naturally increases blood pressure and contributes to the development of heart disease or cardiovascular disease. This also raises the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Cardiomyopathy (a disease that impacts the ability of heart muscle to pump blood), irregular heartbeats, and palpitations are also common. 

Alcohol is calorie-rich and excessive consumption can increase the risk of obesity, which is particularly harmful as obesity is associated with atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a build-up of fats in the blood vessels that cause them to narrow.  

Overall, excessive alcohol consumption can be highly damaging to your heart and is considered to be a trigger for angina. 

Is Alcohol All Bad?

Alcohol has a range of ill effects. It causes a range of problems that affect almost every organ system in the body. Alcohol poisoning can also occur that could potentially cause death. Alcohol has certain chemicals and toxins that cause problems within the nervous system, as it affects the brain and its functions. It can cause a loss of coordination, temporary loss of sensation, and even emotional distress. Alcohol can also lead to diabetes and obesity from the excess calories.  

There have been certain news pieces linking alcohol consumption in moderation to better health. Research shows that small amounts of red wine can be beneficial, and it has been linked to cancer prevention. Red wine is also rich in antioxidants that provide cardiovascular benefits as well. However, wine alone cannot provide these effects. It should be consumed responsibly, in addition to a healthy, fibre-rich, balanced diet and exercise. 

It is necessary to understand that research in this area is limited, and no direct link has been proven between consuming alcohol and improving health. These antioxidants can easily be found in healthier foods. Additionally, the association between alcohol and improved health is limited to red wine. Other types of alcohol are not known to be beneficial: hard liquor, including whiskey and vodka, for example, are highly damaging. 

Can you Drink if you have Angina?

Alcohol can increase your risk of suffering from an angina attack. Drinking can cause a range of effects that act as triggers for angina attacks. It can cause emotional distress and increase stress and anxiety. Additionally, alcohol has damaging effects on the cardiovascular system. The weakening of heart muscles and blood vessels, along with the build-up of fats causing obstructions, can greatly increase the risk of developing angina and/or worsening the symptoms of angina. 

Drinking Responsibly

If you do enjoy sipping beer, wine, or cocktails often, it is important to understand its implications. Moderation is key in maintaining good health. Drinking alcohol excessively can increase the risk of many disorders, such as cancer, liver disease, obesity, high blood pressure, alcoholism, and more. 

The NHS recommends limiting the alcohol intake to fourteen units per week. Ideally, this consumption should be spread over three or more days. An easier way to understand the concepts of units is: fourteen units of alcohol are equivalent to ten small glasses of wine (low strength) or six pints of beer (moderate strength). 

A helpful way of tracking your alcohol intake is working out the number of units in a particular drink. This online tool can help you convert your alcohol intake to units. Additionally, to work out if your drinking is healthy enough, click here

Conclusion 

This article aims to give you a brief overview of the effects of alcohol on the heart and its association with angina. Consumption of alcohol is not recommended for individuals known to suffer from angina attacks and/or heart disease. If you find it difficult to quit alcohol or moderate your intake, it might be worth consulting your local healthcare practitioner. They are trained to deal with such situations and will recommend an actionable plan to help you achieve your health goals. In addition to limiting your alcohol intake, a healthy, balanced diet, hydration, physical exercise (as recommended by your healthcare practitioner), and mindfulness can help you lead a fuller, healthier lifestyle. 

References:

  1. Snopek, L., Mlcek, J., Sochorova, L., Baron, M., Hlavacova, I., Jurikova, T., Kizek, R., Sedlackova, E., & Sochor, J. (2018). Contribution of Red Wine Consumption to Human Health Protection. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 23(7), 1684. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules23071684

Ishana Gole

Master of Science - MS, Bioscience Entrepreneurship, UCL (University College London)
Ishana is a Biomedical Science student with a keen interest in neuroscience and past experience in online consulting, marketing and advertising.

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