How is angina treated?

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Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
Angina occurs when plaque in the coronary arteries partially blocks blood flow and the heart muscle isn't getting enough blood.

Angina that lasts just a few minutes and goes away quickly when you rest or take medication is considered stable angina. Stable angina is commonly treated with nitroglycerin, a drug that widens blood vessels. Your doctor will probably also prescribe other drugs used to treat heart disease.

A more serious form, unstable angina, builds in intensity, lasts several minutes to hours, and doesn't subside with rest. Unstable angina demands urgent medical care. If the blockage in your coronary arteries is severe, you may need angioplasty.

Treatment options for stable angina include medications, surgery, and changes in behavior. The main purpose of treatment is to avoid heart attacks. Behavioral changes that help avoid a heart attack include quitting smoking, losing weight, and eating nutritious food. Avoiding overexertion and overeating can also help. If these behavioral steps are not enough, your doctor may include medications in your treatment plan. You may need to take one or a combination of mediations such as aspirin, statins, and beta blockers. Surgical options may also be used.

Unstable angina requires emergency medical treatment. In the hospital, you may be treated with medications and surgery to avoid a heart attack. Surgical options include angioplasty, in which an artery is widened and a stent inserted to keep it open, or coronary bypass surgery.

Treatments for angina include lifestyle changes, medicines, medical procedures, and cardiac rehabilitation. Lifestyle changes include following a healthy eating plan, quitting smoking, being physically active, losing weight, and learning how to handle stress and relax.
You can prevent or lower your risk for angina and CAD by making lifestyle changes and treating related conditions.
If you have angina, it's important to know the pattern of your angina, what medicines you take (keep a list) and how often you should take then, how to control your angina, and the limits on your physical activity. You should know how and when to seek medical help.
This answer from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. William D. Knopf.
Jack E. Dawson Jr., MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Classic exertional angina is treated with rest. It is important to stop the activity you are doing until the discomforts abate. If they don't completely resolve within a few minutes, it is time to take your first sublingual nitroglycerin. The nitroglycerin may be repeated in five minutes two more times. If that doesn't resolve the pain, one should call 911 for professional help. Studies have shown that lifestyle changes can control many patients' stable angina if they seek help and make changes early. Lifestyle changes produce success; but in every case, it is best for thorough evaluations to determine the state of your health. Interventions are essential when the patient is unstable. The use of coronary stents and coronary artery bypass grafting procedures do save lives and more importantly, buy time needed to institute lifestyle changes.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.