Have you ever squeezed a ball of playdough with all your might or wrung a piece of cloth? If yes, then this is the feeling that a sufferer of angina experiences during an angina attack! The heart feels as if it is being squeezed, wrung, pressed or pierced and the pain may spread to other parts of the body like the arms, neck and jaw too. Some complain of a burning sensation or the feeling that they will throw up. Others feel as breathless as if they have run a 1000 m race. Whatever the symptom, it can be frightening and upsetting.
But it can also be a wake-up call, something that will make you pull up your socks and initiate changes and go for choices that can protect your heart and save your life.
Angina is an SOS message that something is majorly wrong with your heart.
In angina, your heart muscles starve of oxygen due to a block or spasm in the blood vessels that supply blood to your heart.
This is usually because a fatty material called plaque gets deposited in the blood vessel wall. If a fragment of this breaks off and a blood clot forms around it, then it can block the flow of blood to your heart and when blood does not reach a part of your heart, that part gets damaged.
Any further deteriorations in your condition can be prevented or delayed with the right lifestyle choices. Anybody can change for the better, even if you were a couch potato or a junk food glutton before, you can still change your ways and live well after angina.
Tobacco sources include cigarettes, cigars, pipes and gutka. Smoking can cause a lot of damage to your blood vessels and make them fragile. It also increases the deposition of the fatty substance (plaques) in your arteries.
The way to heart protection can be through your diet.
- Eat a balanced meal that is low on fats and salt and avoid heavy meals.
- Eat at least 6 portions of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Choose fibre-laden foods like oats, lentils and sprouts.
- Swap to healthier choices, e.g. snack on nuts and fruits instead of fries or baked products and drink plain water or unsweetened juices instead of aerated drinks, fish instead of red meat.
- Limit salt, unhealthy fat and sugar
Exercise in moderation can help to improve parameters like weight management, blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol which are all risk factors for heart disease. Exercise can have a soothing effect on stress too. If your angina is the sort that is triggered by exercise, then do not overdo it. Always consult a doctor before embarking on an exercise regimen.
Any moderate-intensity activity, like walking at a brisk pace for about 30 minutes is generally safe.
- Start slowly, build capacity gradually but stop immediately if you feel any symptoms of chest pain.
- Exercise with a friend instead of being alone.
- Keep emergency medicines handy
- Pace yourself. Take regular breaks.
- Avoid weightlifting, intense contact sports, etc.
Get a grip on stress
Stress is an inescapable part of life, but it has to be controlled or else it can have multiple negative effects on your health. If you have angina, stress can be one of your triggers. Learn to control stress with meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, pranayama and anything else that works for you.
Some tips to deal with stress
- Start your day with positive thoughts.
- Play soothing music while driving.
- Talk to a friend if you feel anxious.
- Have an active social life.
- Read a joke book or catch an episode of a comedy show.
- Take a break from routine.
- Cultivate some hobbies.
- Join a laughter club.
- Smile more.
Control Blood pressure
Blood pressure pushes your heart to work more and this can trigger an angina attack. You must control your blood pressure by taking the medicines prescribed by your doctor and reducing your salt intake.
Tips to control BP
- Throw away your saltshaker
- Flavour soups and curries with herbs instead of salt
- Avoid frozen or preserved foods as they may contain salt
- Stay active
- Reduce stress
- Watch your weight
- Avoid alcohol.
Control Blood sugar and cholesterol
Elevated levels of blood glucose and cholesterol weigh up against your heart health. Keep these parameters on goal with a combination of treatment and lifestyle modifications like eating right, exercising and weight management.
- Choose lower-fat options like low-fat dairy and lean meat
- Limit saturated fats like butter.
- Avoid trans fats hidden in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, frozen foods, fried foods etc.
- Avoid alcohol
- Avoid hidden sugar found in sauces, jams, drinks etc.