Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

There are many options for angina treatment, including lifestyle changes, medications, angioplasty and stenting, or coronary bypass surgery. The goals of treatment are to reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms and to lower your risk of heart attack and death.

However, if you have unstable angina or angina pain that's different from what you usually have, such as occurring when you're at rest, you need immediate treatment in a hospital.

Lifestyle changes

If your angina is mild, lifestyle changes may be all you need to do. Even if your angina is severe, making lifestyle changes can still help. Changes include:
  • If you smoke, stop smoking. Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • If you're overweight, talk to your doctor about weight-loss options.
  • If you have diabetes, make sure that it is well controlled and that you're following an optimal diet and exercise plan.
  • Because angina is often brought on by exertion, it's helpful to pace yourself and take rest breaks.
  • Avoid large meals.
  • Avoiding stress is easier said than done, but try to find ways to relax. Talk with your doctor about stress-reduction techniques.
  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of whole grains, many fruits and vegetables and limited amounts of saturated fat.
  • Talk to your doctor about starting a safe exercise plan.

Medications

If lifestyle changes alone don't help your angina, you may need to take medications. These may include:

  • Nitrates. Nitrates are often used to treat angina. Nitrates relax and widen your blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow to your heart muscle. You might take a nitrate when you have angina-related chest discomfort, before doing something that normally triggers angina (such as physical exertion) or on a long-term preventive basis. The most common form of nitrate used to treat angina is with nitroglycerin tablets put under your tongue.
  • Aspirin. Aspirin reduces the ability of your blood to clot, making it easier for blood to flow through narrowed heart arteries. Preventing blood clots can also reduce your risk of a heart attack. But don't start taking a daily aspirin without talking to your doctor first.
  • Clot-preventing drugs. Certain medications such as clopidogrel (Plavix), prasugrel (Effient) and ticagrelor (Brilinta) can help prevent blood clots from forming by making your blood platelets less likely to stick together.
  • Beta blockers. Beta blockers work by blocking the effects of the hormone epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. As a result, the heart beats more slowly and with less force, thereby reducing blood pressure. Beta blockers also help blood vessels relax and open up to improve blood flow, thus reducing or preventing angina.
  • Statins. Statins are drugs used to lower blood cholesterol. They work by blocking a substance your body needs to make cholesterol. They may also help your body reabsorb cholesterol that has accumulated in plaques in your artery walls, helping prevent further blockage in your blood vessels. Statins also have many other beneficial effects on your heart arteries.
  • Calcium channel blockers. Calcium channel blockers, also called calcium antagonists, relax and widen blood vessels by affecting the muscle cells in the arterial walls. This increases blood flow in your heart, reducing or preventing angina.
  • Ranolazine (Ranexa). Ranexa can be used alone or with other angina medications, such as calcium channel blockers, beta blockers or nitroglycerin. Unlike some other angina medications, Ranexa can be used if you're taking oral erectile dysfunction medications.

Medical procedures and surgery

Lifestyle changes and medications are frequently used to treat stable angina. But medical procedures such as angioplasty, stenting and coronary artery bypass surgery also are used to treat angina.

  • Angioplasty and stenting. During an angioplasty — also called a percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) — a tiny balloon is inserted into your narrowed artery. The balloon is inflated to widen the artery, and then a small wire mesh coil (stent) is usually inserted to keep the artery open. This procedure improves blood flow in your heart, reducing or eliminating angina. Angioplasty and stenting is a good treatment option if you have unstable angina or if lifestyle changes and medications don't effectively treat your chronic, stable angina.
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery. During coronary artery bypass surgery, a vein or artery from somewhere else in your body is used to bypass a blocked or narrowed heart artery. Bypass surgery increases blood flow to your heart and reduces or eliminates angina. It's a treatment option for both unstable angina as well as stable angina that has not responded to other treatments.
Jul. 12, 2013