EDP column by Dr Dhatariya

“I have been getting chest pains when I climb my stairs. My GP tells me it is angina.
What is this?"

Angina is Latin for pain. More correctly what you describe is angina pectoris – chest pain. It sounds as though you have pain that may be coming from your heart.

The heart is a muscle that requires a lot of blood to keep the very active muscle cells supplied with oxygen. When you do something that speeds up your heart rate – such as climbing the stairs, the amount of oxygen that your heart needs increases.

The arteries that carry the oxygen rich blood to the heart can be affected by atherosclerosis. That means that they become lined with fatty material that makes the blood vessels more narrow. Because they become more narrow, the amount of blood able to pass through them goes down. This means that when the heart speeds up, the narrow blood vessels do not allow sufficient oxygen to get to the hard working muscles. The muscles are then deprived of oxygen and they produce a chemical called lactic acid that affects the nerves around the heart. This signal from the nerves from the heart is felt as chest pain.

I am sure that you have heard about a ‘healthy lifestyle’. This means eating less fat, less sugar and less salt as well. In addition, a healthy life style means taking some exercise – that could be taking a brisk walk for 20 or 30 minutes every day, or even walking widths in a swimming pool. A healthy lifestyle also means stopping smoking. All of these things are important because they can help to prevent the fatty build up that narrows the inside of the blood vessels and so preventing or delaying the condition.

If you do have angina, then it is important that you go and see your doctor who will start you on some medication to slow your heart down a little, another to lower your cholesterol – an important part of the fatty material in the blood vessels. They may also put you on medication to help relax and widen the blood vessels. They may send you up to see a heart specialist at the hospital.

Angina may stay the same for many years, but it may also get worse, with the symptoms coming on after less exertion. If this happens, or if you ever get chest pain or breathlessness that does not go away after 30 minutes then it is important that you seem medical help quickly.

For more information about Angina click these links: