Be Your Own Advocate For Angina To Save Lives

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‘Use heart to act now on angina’

International pharmaceutical group Servier, together with the World Heart Federation (WHF) and Global Heart Hub, which represents people with heart disease, have launched the ‘Use heart to act now on angina’ campaign. This worldwide campaign, which is endorsed locally by the SA Heart Association, aims to raise public awareness about the symptoms of angina, which are often underestimated, and the importance of acting on them straight away by getting medical attention.

The campaign which was launched during a recent webinar run by the WHF emphasised that now more than ever, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to be aware of your heart health and that it is vital to consult your doctor promptly if you have any symptoms of angina.

What is angina?

Angina is pain or discomfort in the chest caused by lack of oxygen flow to the heart. This could be due to a blockage in the main coronary arteries, or dysfunction of small heart vessels. The discomfort feels like pressure or squeezing, and could also be felt in the neck, jaw, shoulder, and back. It could even feel like indigestion or be mistaken for stress or menopause symptoms. It usually occurs during physical activity or at times of emotional stress but can also occur while at rest. It usually lasts for a short while, perhaps 5 minutes or less.

People with angina are often underdiagnosed and undertreated. It is therefore essential for early warning signs to be recognised in time – both by people who experience them, as well as by the doctor they consult. While angina is not usually deadly, it is a warning sign that you could be at risk of a heart attack or stroke.

According to Dr. Blanche Cupido, President of the SA Heart Association: “Angina needs to be taken more seriously because it is a symptom of coronary heart disease, which is the greatest killer across the globe – with almost 18 million deaths in 2016 according to the World Health 0rganization.” Risk factors include tobacco smoking, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels, a family history of heart disease, physical inactivity, obesity, and stress. Men older than 45 and women older than 55 are at greater risk of angina than younger adults.

Says Cupido: “It is important to know the warning signs of angina and take them seriously, because with treatment and lifestyle changes you can control the more serious risks and health issues associated with angina. This is why we advocate and support the global campaign ‘Use heart to act now on angina’.”

Cupido also says that there is a general lack of awareness and confusion about what angina really is. “People talk about it as if it is a condition – but it is a symptom of a condition, which is usually coronary heart disease – and must be taken seriously. However, it is not seen as a priority condition yet it should be. Doctors need to be more vigilant in investigating suspected cases, and patients need to be more aware and take responsibility for managing their condition.”

Cupido adds: “Women are especially disadvantaged when it comes to coronary heart disease and access to care. No one expects them to have it – but postmenopausal women are at higher risk than men of a similar age. It is therefore vital that people advocate for themselves: if you suspect angina, you need to make a case to get proper care for yourself.”

Patients advocating for their own care becomes especially important owing to the fact that many doctors fail to pick up the condition. One study revealed that 43% of patients who have experienced angina in the past month remain under-recognised by their doctors as having the condition.

Cupido encourages patients to describe their symptoms carefully, and to go to the doctor with clear facts on how many episodes of angina they have had, when they happened, and how long they lasted. She believes that ‘people power’ will bring about the change that is needed for doctors to recognise angina more.

Says Cupido: “The world is seeing an epidemic of cardiovascular disease, which is a real tragedy. Angina is a symptom which is an ‘alarm bell’ to warn you. Not all chest pain is cardiac/angina, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and have it investigated by a doctor. The COVID-19 pandemic will go away, but cardiovascular disease will still be with us. This deadly condition should be faced with more seriousness.”

The SA Heart Association urges anyone experiencing symptoms of angina to go and see their doctor and to let them know what their symptoms are, how long they last, and how often they occur.

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