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    Both a heart attack and angina feel like a squeezing, uncomfortable pressure in the chest. So, how can you tell which is which? Despite the similarities, they are different situations that require different medical attention. To better prepare for the future and know what to do in the event of chest pain, it is important to understand the differences between a heart attack and angina.

    What is Angina?

    Angina is not a disease, but a symptom of an underlying heart condition like coronary artery disease or coronary microvascular disease. Coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs when the heart is unable to receive enough oxygen due to a blockage or narrowing in the coronary arteries. CAD causes many uncomfortable symptoms, and Angina is the medical term used to describe the tightening, squeezing, or pressure in the chest. This feeling of tightness can be heightened by stress, strong emotions, harsh temperatures, physical activity, or even a heavy meal. Although predominantly in the chest, pain in the jaw, shoulder, neck, and arm can also be a part of angina.

    Types of Angina

    Angina can either be classified as stable or unstable. Typically, angina starts in stable form and becomes unstable as it progresses.

    – Stable angina:

    People with stable angina typically experience pain after physical activity or another trigger. This form of angina is often predictable and goes away after a short rest.

     – Unstable angina:

    Unstable angina is less predictable and harder to control. This pain usually lasts longer, is more intense, and does not seem to be caused by physical exercise.

    How to Recognize a Heart Attack

    Heart attacks occur when blood flow to the heart becomes restricted or blocked. The primary symptom of a heart attack is chest pain, which can feel like a tightness, pressure, fullness, or burning around the heart. Heart attacks can also cause stomach pain or nausea, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and shooting pain in the left arm. The warning signs are different for men and women, and although some people experience immediate, obvious symptoms, most heart attacks begin moderately and slowly escalate.    

    Is it a Heart Attack or Angina?

    Because of the similarities, many people are not able to tell the difference between angina and a heart attack. If you are experiencing severe chest pain or are having trouble breathing for longer than five minutes when resting, it is important to call 911 and seek immediate medical attention. These symptoms could indicate a heart attack or unstable angina.

    However, if your chest pain lasts less than five minutes and goes away after resting, it is likely stable angina. Although not an immediate emergency, angina is warning sign that the heart isn’t getting enough oxygen and should not be ignored.  

     Seeking Treatment for Angina

    If you suspect you are suffering from angina, don’t hesitate to call your cardiologist to schedule an appointment. Simple tests, including a stress test or an electrophysiology study can help you and your cardiologist better understand the status of your heart. There are also a variety of medication and surgery options that can help your heart get ample blood flow, relieve angina pain, and even prevent a cardiac event in the future.Return

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