Angina pectoris is a circulatory disorder of the heart which is caused by arterial calcification (arteriosclerosis) of the coronary arteries. In rare cases, this circulatory disorder can also be caused by a cramp (spasm) in the coronary arteries.
This reduces the oxygen supply to the heart muscle, which causes the typical feeling of tightness and pain in the chest. Doctors also refer to it as coronary heart disease because the coronary arteries are affected.
Arteriosclerosis a slow, progressive disease. Therefore, angina pectoris usually occurs only after the age of 40. The risk increases as people age. Men are affected more often than women. Besides age, the most significant risk factors are smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, lack of movement and stress. According to the latest findings, the smallest inflammation in the arteries, for example, such as in the case of flu, can also contribute to the development of arteriosclerosis.
The symptoms of angina pectoris typically occur in situations where the heart requires more oxygen. For example, when you physically exert yourself or become agitated. Pain in the chest area radiating into the arm, the shoulder or the chin as well as tightness in the chest are characteristic symptoms of the disease. Dizziness and shortness of breath sometimes also occur. The pain is usually temporary and goes away by itself or after the patient has taken a nitroglycerin capsule at the latest. If the pain continues over a longer period or increases in intensity despite rest, medical assistance must be sought. In such cases, the patient may be suffering from unstable angina pectoris or even a heart attack.
Different examinations are carried out to diagnose and clarify angina pectoris. They include a stress ECG, a heart catheter examination (coronary angiography) or a cardiac CT.
The treatment depends on the severity of the arteriosclerosis in the coronary heart vessels. If a patient has mild arteriosclerosis, it is often sufficient to prescribe nitroglycerin capsules to quickly deal with a case of angina pectoris. If the coronary vessels are extremely constricted, they can be widened with a balloon catheter. A small tube (stent) is often inserted simultaneously to keep the area open. If it is not possible to widen it, the constriction can often be bypassed with a vascular bridge. Find out more about these procedures in the chapter entitled Surgery and procedures on the coronary arteries. The treatment of risk factors such as high blood pressure, increased cholesterol and a positive approach to blood sugar in the event of diabetes are all an important part of the treatment of angina pectoris.