Angina Pectoris and Coronary Artery Disease in the Elderly I


David Crumrine

Coronary heart disease is a term used to describe a group of symptoms that have one major cause: atherosclerosis, or a build-up of plaque in the arteries. When we smoke or eat foods high in fat or sugar, considerable damage occurs in the arteries, which causes the body to reinforce the walls with plaque. When this fatty material builds up in the arteries, it not only causes discomfort, but limits the arteries' ability get oxygen to the heart, resulting in susceptibility to heart attack, which is a complete blockage of the artery. Senior citizens are at high risk for Coronary Artery Disease and its associated health complications. It is therefore important that the elderly and those caring for the elderly be able to identify symptoms and respond appropriately.

A common symptom of CAD or coronary heart disease is chest pain or what medical professionals refer to as "angina pectoris". Angina or symptoms associated with angina can also be referred to as acute coronary syndrome or coronary artery spasms. This symptom is characterized mainly by pressure in areas around the chest, leading to what some say feels like indigestion. The compromised function of the arteries results in a lack of oxygen getting to the heart, which in turn leads to this discomfort. The following describe different types of this particular symptom:

  • Stable angina: This is the most common type. It occurs when the heart is constantly stressed from being overworked, and often occurs in predictable patterns. An increased demand for oxygen resulting from activities like exercise or other types of stress can trigger this type of discomfort. Stable angina is often easily relieved with medication.
  • Unstable angina: This type of angina is not predictable, can occur randomly and may not be easily relieved. While all symptoms of angina can indicate susceptibility to heart attack, unstable angina usually indicates an increased risk. The unpredictability is due to blood clotting that occurs when blocked arteries rupture.
  • Variant angina: This is the rarest form and can occur sporadically at night when one is at rest. This occurs because of spasms (tightening and narrowing of the artery wall) that occur in the arteries as a result of certain types of stresses on the body which may or may not be linked to CAD.

Because angina is so common, and severity of discomfort caused by angina can vary considerably, it is always best to verify with a doctor in order to identify your personal risk to heart complications and discuss how to manage symptoms you may be having as a result. Senior citizens and those caring for the elderly should work with doctors to create and maintain care plans for addressing angina.

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