Angina Symptoms, Treatment & Management in Elderly People
Angina is a serious health condition that, according to the NIH, approximately 7 million in the U.S. suffer from; it affects men and women equally. Elderly individuals are at a far greater risk of contracting cardiovascular ailments than any other group of people. Though heart attacks, strokes and heart disease are often regarded as the worst afflictions, one lesser known, but equally dangerous illness is angina in elderly patients.
When a person’s heart muscles lack an adequate supply of oxygen-rich blood, they are forced to work harder to keep the blood pumping. This leads to pain and/or discomfort in the chest and upper body region, and is often likened to a feeling of indigestion by patients. Since the problem occurs directly in the bloodstream, the pain can be difficult to pinpoint.
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All About Angina: What You Need to Know
Understanding the differences between specific types of angina is essential for keeping your loved one healthy. Angina is not itself a heart problem per se, but rather a warning sign of a deeper, more serious underlying health issue. Many people who experience angina are later diagnosed with coronary heart disease, which can be life-threatening if not addressed in its early stages.
Angina attacks in the elderly occur in one of four ways. Here is a brief overview of the symptoms, treatment and prevention options for each. Don’t immediately think that just because your loved one is clutching their chest in pain that they are having a heart attack, but also do not hesitate to contact the paramedics.
Stable (silent) Angina:
Stable or silent angina is the most common form of angina in the elderly, and it occurs in an identifiable pattern. The episodes typically last 5 minutes at most; heart rate will increase rapidly and will make the patient feel as if they are conducting strenuous exercise. The pain will likely be felt in the chest first, with gradual radiation to the arms and upper back. Stable angina is commonly misconstrued as heartburn or indigestion, and can be controlled with prescription medication. The American Heart Association observes that emotional stress, smoking, and exposure to extreme temperatures — hot or cold — may be triggers of a stable angina episode.
The name alone suggests that unstable angina is a more serious condition. It occurs sporadically, with episodes ranging in duration (30 minutes is not uncommon) and intensity. The pain can be severe and is a strong indication that a heart attack may soon follow. Medicine will do little to forestall the effects, so the best course of action is to contact 911.
Very few angina attacks in the elderly are caused by this type. Variant (or Prinzmetal’s) Angina occurs as the result of a spasm in a coronary artery, and it affects people when they are sleeping or at rest. This form of angina occurs mostly at night and is quite severe on the pain scale. Fortunately, Variant Angina can be treated effectively with medication.
This type refers to problems with blood flow at a microvascular level. It can be equivalent to unstable angina in terms of pain and duration, and requires emergency medical treatment to subside. Medication is not an effective form of treatment.
Remember, angina is always caused by a more serious health problem. Coronary heart disease can not be stopped, but there are many things your loved one can do to keep it under control and prevent these episodes. A heart healthy diet, active lifestyle (e.g. smoke and alcohol-free), and a stable body weight will do much to prevent the condition from worsening.