I have been diagnosed with “angina”. Am I going to have a heart attack?
Angina is a type of chest pain or discomfort occurring when your heart muscle does not get enough blood supply. Doctors typically refer to this as “stable” angina. It can involve the chest, the left or both arms, the jaw, and the back. More often it starts in the chest and then radiates (travels) to the arm and the jaw. However, experience tells us that each patient experiences this differently and it can often remain undiagnosed when it does not manifest with typical symptoms.
The reason why is called ‘stable’ is because it has a predictable pattern of behaviour. It usually starts gradually and worsens with increasing levels of exertion (which is different to the pattern of atypical chest pain described above). The level of exertion at which patients experience symptoms vary and depend on your underlying fitness levels as well as the underlying cause. If this is caused by a narrowing at the very beginning of the arteries supplying the heart, symptoms may appear after minimal exertion. On the other hand, if this is the result of a narrowing further along these arteries, symptoms may only appear after heavy exertion. Other cardiovascular conditions such as narrow or leaky heart valves, thickened heart muscle or fast heart rhythms can produce similar symptoms as these conditions also impact on the blood supply to the heart.
Cold temperatures can also provoke angina if narrowings are already present. This is because, at lower temperatures, the oxygen requirements of the heart increase meaning symptoms can be experienced even with lower exertion. Anaemia can also have the same effect.
If you are experiencing these or similar symptoms, the first thing to do is not panic. Stable angina is not a heart attack. However, it does need medical attention and therefore specialist advice and help is strongly advised.