How to Help Someone Live With Angina
What is angina?
Angina isn't actually a disease, but rather a symptom of a larger problem: coronary artery disease (CAD), which occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in the arteries leading to the heart. As CAD progresses, the blood flow to the heart decreases, leading to angina and potentially a heart attack.
Angina is considered stable (triggered by physical exertion or stress, relieved by resting or taking nitroglycerin) or unstable (often occurring at rest or with very little exertion). But in general, the only real difference between stable and unstable angina is the extent of narrowing of the coronary arteries. (There are also some rare forms of angina unrelated to CAD.) You can think of it as a "supply and demand" issue: if a patient has advanced CAD, there's a fixed supply of oxygenated blood moving to his heart. The supply may be sufficient when he's at rest, but if he exerts himself, the heart's increased demand for oxygenated blood simply can't be met.
Angina usually manifests as chest pain or discomfort, but sometimes people experience shortness of breath or pain in the jaw, arm, back, or shoulders.