Learn the cardiac symptoms you should never ignore—and what to do about them
Chest pain can be scary: Is it heartburn, or an impending heart attack? In many cases it's neither: A condition known as angina—whose symptoms may include pain, tightness or a burning sensation in the chest as well as pain in the jaw, shoulders or left arm and breathlessness—your body's way of telling you you've got heart disease.
Triggered by the buildup of cholesterol and other substances in the arteries, which partially block blood flow to the heart, angina most often occurs when you exert yourself physically and the heart requires more oxygen than usual.
The good news is that once you've been diagnosed with this early sign of heart disease, you'll learn to recognize symptoms and treat them with rest and medication. Here, your three-step angina survival guide:
- Get diagnosed If you experience angina symptoms, your doctor should assess risk factors like a family history of heart disease. She'll check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and may prescribe tests to detect restricted blood flow to the heart.
- Carry medications Your first line of defense against angina is fast-acting nitrates—tablets or sprays that quickly widen blood vessels to relieve angina pain. Your doctor may also suggest a daily low-dose aspirin to keep blood vessels open.
- Eat to beat angina To combat cholesterol build-up, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, eat three-ounce servings of lean protein like fish and turkey, load up on fiber-rich whole grains and swap out regular dairy for low- and nonfat varieties.
Written by: Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.
From our sister publication, Diabetes Focus, Fall 2011