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Angina and heart attacks are both associated with chest pain and can be caused by coronary artery disease which affects the blood vessels

What Is The Difference Between Angina And A Heart Attack?

When it comes to heart disease, the terms “angina” and “heart attack” are frequently used. They may appear similar because they are commonly used in similar contexts. You’ve probably heard or read about them together, so they’re easy to mix up.

Angina and heart attacks are both associated with chest pain and can be caused by coronary artery disease. This condition affects the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the heart (the coronary arteries). Plaque buildup inside the vessels narrows them, allowing less blood to pass through to bring oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle.

Despite their similarities, they are distinct situations that require specific medical attention. It is critical to understand the distinctions between a heart attack and angina to better plan for the future and comprehend what to do during chest pain.


What exactly is angina?

Angina is a symptom of a heart condition such as coronary artery disease or coronary microvascular disease, not a disease in and of itself. Coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs when the heart does not receive enough oxygen due to a blockage or narrowing in the coronary arteries. Angina is the medical term for tightening, squeezing, or pressure in the chest caused by coronary artery disease. This tightness can be aggravated by stress, intense emotions, cold weather, physical activity, or even a heavy meal. Angina can cause pain in the jaw, shoulder, neck, arm and chest.


Classification of Angina

Angina can be classified as either stable or unstable. Angina typically begins in a stable state and progresses to an unstable state.

  1. Stable angina: People with stable angina usually experience pain after performing physical activities or another trigger. This type of angina is generally easy to predict and fades away after a brief period of rest.
  2. Unstable angina: Unstable angina is much less predictable and more challenging to manage. This type of pain typically lasts longer, is more intense, and does not appear to be caused by physical activity.


What triggers angina?

Reduced blood flow to the heart can cause angina. Physical activity, stress, and smoking can all cause this symptom.

Even if your coronary arteries are narrowed, your heart may still not receive enough blood while resting. However, once you start moving, your heart begins to work harder. Angina develops when your coronary arteries cannot deliver enough blood to your active heart. Stress can cause your heart to work harder and cause angina.


How to Detect a Heart Attack?

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is restricted or blocked. A heart attack’s primary symptom is chest pain, which can feel like stiffness, pressure, fullness, or burning around the heart. In addition to stomach pain or nausea, heart attacks can lead to shortness of breath, dizziness, and shooting pains in the left arm. Men and women have different warning signs, and while some people have immediate, obvious symptoms, most heart attacks start moderately and gradually aggravate.


Differences between angina and heart attack

Pain in the chest area Heaviness in chest Deep pain in the chest
Pain radiates to the jaw and neck Yes Yes
Duration It lasts for 5- 10 minutes Lasts for longer (> 30 minutes)
Triggers Exertion, stress, temperature extremes None
Relief With Rest Very little relief with rest

When the heart does not receive enough blood, your body sends warning signals that the heart is in danger of damage. Angina is a type of pain that occurs when the heart is in trouble.


On the other hand, heart attacks happen when the narrowing is severe or causes a blockage, resulting in heart muscle damage. In other words, a heart attack is a medical condition, and angina is a symptom.


Another way to look at it is as follows: When your heart does not receive enough blood, you experience angina, and a heart attack occurs when the lack of blood flow causes damage to the heart.


So, how does angina feel? The following are some common examples of “typical” angina:

  1. Chest pain that improves with rest is often described as pressure or squeezing
  2. Neck, jaw, shoulders, arms, or back pain
  3. Breathing difficulty


You may also experience other symptoms that you are unaware are caused by heart disease. These are known as “atypical” symptoms and include:

  1. Weakness
  2. Fatigue
  3. Indigestion
  4. Nausea


Angina may be a symptom of a heart attack, but the discomfort may be more severe or occur while resting if you have a heart attack. It can be challenging to tell the difference sometimes, so seek medical attention (Call 000 / Triple Zero) immediately if you have any doubts. Angina does not always indicate a heart attack, but it could be a warning sign, especially if the pain is new, worsening, or changing.


A message from the Heartscope Specialist Group

If you suspect you have angina, contact your cardiologist immediately to make an appointment. Heartscope Specialist Group also offers simple tests, such as a stress test or an electrophysiology study, to help you and your cardiologist better understand the state of your heart. Signs and symptoms of unstable angina or a heart attack necessitate immediate medical attention. These symptoms do not improve with rest and may worsen. Do not take the vehicle and drive yourself to the hospital. Call 000 and stay on the line until assistance arrives.