About angina: a brief explanation
The diagnosis of angina can be worrisome, but it can also be considered a wake up call and a chance to make the necessary changes needed to lead a healthier lifestyle.
Angina refers to a sensation of pain and discomfort, mainly felt in your chest, either due to triggers or without any explanation. Angina is usually a result of pre-existing coronary heart disease and can lead to heart attacks.
In coronary heart disease, the blood vessels carrying blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the heart and other organs of the body are narrowed. This narrowing can occur due to the presence of blockages or obstructions, which are often a result of unhealthy lifestyle decisions such as eating unhealthy food, consuming alcohol, and smoking.
A heart attack may occur if the blood vessels supplying the heart are blocked. The heart will not receive the oxygen and nutrients that it needs causing the muscles to ‘starve’.
Getting a plan
A diagnosis or even an episode of angina is normally a strong indicator that you need to make some changes to your lifestyle. It is beneficial to consult your local healthcare practitioner in order to develop a plan that will suit your needs and schedules. However, there are certain scientifically proven changes that you can incorporate into your life to reduce the symptoms of angina and lead a healthier life.
Eating a healthy diet
Eating healthy and following a balanced diet is the ideal way to move forward. Many nutritionists claim that weight loss is primarily governed by dietary habits as opposed to excessive workouts with no proper diet. Food is the fuel we need to carry out daily activities, so restricting calories or eating unhealthy foods can have lasting, damaging effects. Eating high-calorie foods will invariably increase your cholesterol levels, which can induce the buildup of plaques and fatty deposits within the walls of the arteries. These obstructions not only cause high blood pressure but also lead to angina and heart attacks if left unchecked.
Scientific research shows that following a balanced, healthy diet can cause improvements in angina, whilst unhealthy eating can cause its return. The following are certain guidelines, as discussed by the British Heart Foundation, that you may keep in mind, whilst developing a diet plan for improving your health. It is advisable to consult your local healthcare practitioner or a specialist nutritionist before making these changes in order to achieve the best outcome possible for your health.
- Include lots of fruits and vegetables into your diet. A balanced diet would ideally include five portions of fruit and vegetables throughout the day. A portion refers to roughly 3 oz or 80g. The intake could be through fresh, dried, tinned, or frozen fruits and vegetables. However, be careful with dried fruits, as some have added sugars.
- Research suggests that Mediterranean diets are useful in managing heart problems. This includes consumption of unsaturated (good) fats from fish, nuts, olive oil, and fibre from vegetables, antioxidants, and whole grain foods.
- Always choose fresh food items over heavily processed fast food.
- Reducing your sodium (salt) intake can be highly beneficial, as can increasing your potassium intake. This is possible via eating potassium-rich foods such as bananas, beans, avocados, spinach, broccoli, apricots, and raisins. This is mainly because potassium can help your muscles, especially in your heart, contract with ease to help maintain normal blood pressure and improve heart health.
- Starch-rich foods are also important and can be included with food such as whole wheat or whole grain breads, brown/black/red rice, pasta, and potatoes.
- Avoid foods rich in trans fats and saturated fats as these can raise cholesterol levels within the body. These include fried foods, bakery and confectionery products, red meat, butter, cream, and oil.
- Limiting your sugar intake is key. A high sugar diet can lead to obesity and diabetes, which are associated with coronary heart disease, angina, and other heart problems.
- Plant based alternatives such as pea protein, vegan milk and butter, vegan cheese, and soy protein may also help.
Although physical exertion can be a trigger for angina, research shows that physical activity reduces the risk of developing heart diseases. It can also help improve your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and weight. Regular exercise can increase the capacity and ability of the body to incorporate oxygen. This can improve your energy levels throughout the day, as well as increase circulation and decrease the intensity of certain symptoms of angina, like shortness of breath and chest pain.
Aerobic exercises are highly beneficial because they increase your heart rate. This induces a quicker breathing rate, thereby increasing the amount of oxygen taken in by the body. These exercises include cycling or running. If you’re unsure how to start, consult a specialist and find a plan that works for you.
It is always important to consult a health professional before committing to gym workouts, especially if you have angina. It is advisable to always start each physical activity with a slow warm up for 7-10 minutes and a cool down for the same duration at the end of the workout. Yoga, tai-chi, rock climbing, and golf are some alternatives you may want to try.
Those who work and experience angina can continue to work, but should take some precautions. It is vital to carry essential medication such as your glyceral trinitrate (GTN) medicines or spray, as prescribed by a healthcare practitioner, to ease the symptoms of angina. You can inform your supervisors or co-workers about this if necessary in order to get as much help and support as possible. It is also important to understand the trigger of your angina symptoms in order to avoid those as much as possible, especially at work. In case you are required to carry out manual labour or highly exertive practises, it is vital to not only consult your doctors but also your employers to make the necessary changes to reduce the possibility of developing a heart attack.
You can proceed with driving if you have angina. However, it is important to notify the authorities about your medical condition if it affects your driving skills - for example, if angina occurs while you are driving, at rest, or if it is triggered by emotions. It is beneficial to consult your healthcare practitioner for more advice to tailor your experience to your needs. If you experience angina while driving, take a break and carry on once the symptoms are under control.
Reduce your risk of having a heart attack by changing lifestyle habits
Some of the most beneficial changes can be made by you to lead a better life. Improving your diet and supplementing it with regular, light exercise and mindfulness. Meditation and breathing exercises can help you achieve control over your emotions and deal with stress. Additionally, quitting smoking and limiting your alcohol intake to the recommended amount or lesser, can significantly improve your chances of easing these symptoms. Smoking and drinking can cause your blood vessels to narrow and reduce the amount of oxygen circulating within the body. This causes muscles to not function effectively, leading to worsening symptoms of angina and increasing the risk of heart attacks. It is also important to understand the triggers of your angina symptoms. Doing so can help you avoid such situations and help you prepare if those situations are inevitable or an integral part of your daily routine.
Making these small but important changes can significantly help you without creating any disruptions to your routine.
- Healthy eating. Bhf.org.uk. Retrieved 9 February 2022, from https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/support/healthy-living/healthy-eating.
- Martínez-González, M., Gea, A., & Ruiz-Canela, M. (2019). The Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health. Circulation Research, 124(5), 779-798. https://doi.org/10.1161/circresaha.118.313348
- Massera D, Graf L, Barba S, Ostfeld R. Angina rapidly improved with a plant-based diet and returned after resuming a Western diet. J Geriatr Cardiol. 2016;13(4):364-366. doi:10.11909/j.issn.1671-5411.2016.04.005
- Piercy, K., & Troiano, R. (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans From the US Department of Health and Human Services. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality And Outcomes, 11(11). https://doi.org/10.1161/circoutcomes.118.005263