You’d think that exercise would benefit the heart and thus improve the angina condition, but the truth is the opposite:
Exercise will make angina get worse.
“The reason for this may be easier to understand using a mechanical example,” says Charles C. Cummings, MD, Interventional Cardiologist, LifeBridge Health Cardiovascular Institute in Baltimore, MD.
“If a car has a partially blocked fuel line, it may still get enough gasoline to drive smoothly on roads with low speed limits.
“It can be the same with the body. At rest, there may be enough blood getting through the coronary arteries to fuel the body even if those arteries are narrowed.
“However, when individuals exert themselves and the blood needs to flow faster, it’s like clamping down on a car’s fuel line reducing it by 50 percent and still expecting the car to run efficiently on the beltway going 65 miles an hour. It’s not going to work.
“That’s why stress tests are a good way to figure out what is going on. Patients exercise at different levels on a treadmill, changing the heart rate.
“If they have typical or atypical symptoms or the EKG shows changes during the rest, then it’s a sign that there could be a problem.”
Typical symptoms of angina are chest pain, chest tightness and a sensation that the body isn’t getting enough air.
Atypical symptoms of angina would include back pain, stomach pain and feeling that you need to burp but the burp never comes (when combined with chest pain).
Stress Tests for Those Who Can’t Use a Treadmill
For people with painful knees or some other lower-extremity issue that makes walking painful, they can still undergo a stress test with a stationary bike or the use of a drug that makes the heart “think” it’s being exercised.
These tests will show if the patient has angina.
Dr. Cummings holds several cardiovascular device patents and has been the director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at the Sinai Hospital since 1998.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.