In treating angina, your doctor will treat the underlying heart disease to prevent it from getting worse. By doing this, blood flow to the heart improves and angina gets better. Lifestyle changes and certain medications can improve blood flow and make you feel better fairly quickly. Keep track of what causes your angina pain, what it feels like, how often you get it, and how long it lasts. If there's a change in your pattern for the worse (for example, if it happens more frequently or with less exertion), let your doctor know right away.
Changing your diet, exercising regularly, and practicing relaxation techniques to reduce your response to stress can help improve blood flow to your heart and reduce angina. These steps can also help treat your risk factors for heart disease.
A diet low in saturated fat and high in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will help your heart and also keep your weight under control. The American Heart Association recommends that you do the following to prevent or treat heart disease:
- Eat a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups, especially whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low fat dairy products.
- Eat at least 2 servings of fish per week, particularly fish high in Omega-3 fats, such as salmon, trout, and herring.
- Limit sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day.
- Limit alcohol intake to 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.
- Reduce your consumption of beverages and foods with added sugars.
- Burn as many calories as you take in. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days (or, better still, every day). If you can't find a 30-minute block of time for exercise, aim for three 10-minute sessions suring the course of the day.
Relaxation techniques may help you reduce stress -- which can be a contributing factor to heart disease -- and relieve chest pain. Such practices might include the use of meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, yoga, self-hypnosis, or biofeedback.
For the treatment of stable angina, your doctor will likely recommend daily aspirin as well as a combination of the following prescription medications:
- Nitroglycerin and oral nitrates -- Temporarily dilate coronary arteries, allowing the heart to get more blood and oxygen.
- Beta-blockers -- Slow heart rate and blood pressure, reducing the heart's need for oxygen. You should never abruptly stop taking a beta-blocker, because serious side effects can occur. Talk to your doctor about how to slowly wean off of this drug. Beta-blockers include:
- Atenolol (Tenormin)
- Metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol-XL)
- Propranolol (Inderal, Inderal LA)
- Calcium-channel blockers -- Slow heart rate and cause arteries to dilate. Calcium-channel blockers include:
- Nifedipine (Procardia)
- Amlodipine (Norvasc)
- Diltiazem (Cardizem)
- Statins -- Lower cholesterol, which is associated with a higher risk of heart attacks due to cardiovascular disease.
- Ranolazine (Ranexa) -- Used only when other anti angina drugs don't work, due to potential side effects. It is used with other anti-angina medications, such as beta-blockers or nitroglycerin.
Surgery and Other Procedures
If lifestyle changes and medications are not effective or if unstable angina develops, you may need coronary artery bypass graft surgery, angioplasty with stent placement, or another type of procedure to improve blood flow to your heart.
See also: Atherosclerosis
Other procedures include transmyocardial laser revascularization (TMR), which is usually done along with coronary artery bypass; and, for those who are not candidates for standard treatments, a procedure called enhanced external counter pulsation (EECP).
Nutrition and Dietary Supplements
Eat a well balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products. If approved by your physician, make sure you exercise at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week.
There are many supplements that can help reduce your chances of developing heart disease and its consequences, including angina.
See also: Atherosclerosis
A few supplements are being studied specifically to reduce the pain from angina. However, you should never try to treat angina on your own, and should only take supplements or herbs under your doctor's supervision. The doses given below are ones that have been used in studies; it is important to talk to your doctor about what dose might be best for you.
- L-carnitine (1 g 2 times per day), an amino acid, may help reduce symptoms of angina, according to several clinical trials. L-carnitine can potentially interact with blood-thining medications such as Coumadin (Warfarin) and thyroid hormone.
- Coenzyme Q10 or CoQ10 (150 mg per day) is important for heart health and several studies suggest that taking it may allow people with angina to exercise more without pain. High doses of CoQ10 may interfere with some blood thinners. If you take blood thinners, talk to your doctor before taking CoQ10.
- Arginine or l-arginine (2 g 3 times per day) is another amino acid that may improve blood flow and increase exercise tolerance in people with angina. L-argnine can increase bleeding and lower blood pressure. It can also interact with medications that treat erectile dysfunction and aggravate herpes symptoms.
- Magnesium (365 mg 2 times per day) acts similar to a calcium-channel blocker in the body, although it is much weaker. One study suggested it may help reduce chest pain caused by exercise. Magnesium can lower blood pressure and cause diarrhea, so talk to your doctor before taking it.
The use of herbs is a time honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider. If you have angina, do not take any herbs without your doctor's supervision.
There are several different herbs that may be helpful for the treatment and prevention of heart disease, including those that help you reduce your cholesterol, blood pressure, and other risk factors.
Herbs that may be helpful for angina include:
- Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna, 60 mg 3 times per day) has been used traditionally to treat heart disease. One small clinical trial suggested that people with angina who took hawthorn improved blood flow to the heart and were better able to exercise without pain. However, the trial was small and more studies are needed. Hawthorn can cause side effects and interact with other drugs, so do not take it without your doctor's supervision.
- Kudzu (Pueria lobota, 30 mg - 120 mg per day) has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries to treat heart disease. A few clinical trials have indicated that kudzu may reduce the frequency of angina in people, but the trials were poorly designed. More research is needed. Kudzu can cause side effects and interact with other drugs, so do not take it without your doctor's supervision.
- Terminalia arjuna, an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine, was shown in one study to be as effective as isosorbide mononitrate (Imdur) in reducing the number of angina attacks and increasing exercise capacity. However, more studies are needed.
- Suxiao jiuxin wan is widely used in China for angina. One study found that suxiao jiuxin wan improved ECG measurements and reduced symptoms and frequency of acute angina attacks compared with nitroglycerin.
Homeopathy should never be used instead of immediate medical attention for unstable angina, new onset chest pain, or chest pain that has changed in intensity, frequency, or other characteristics. Homeopathy may, however, be used to help reduce your risk of heart disease, along with other medications. Although few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies, professional homeopaths would recommend appropriate therapy to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account your constitutional type. In homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath would assess all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for you as an individual.
Studies using acupuncture to treat angina have found mixed results. While some show no benefit, others have found that acupuncture may help reduce the frequency of angina attacks and the need to use nitroglycerin. One Chinese study found that pressing fingertips to an acupuncture point located at the sternum at nipple height during a stable angina incidents was as effective as taking nitroglycerin. It also worked faster than taking pills.
Prognosis and Complications
With the right treatment -- including eating proper diet, getting enough exercise, and taking medication -- blood flow to the heart can dramatically improve, lessening the likelihood of angina attacks.
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