Chest pain can be a serious problem, but it doesn’t always indicate a heart attack. We often see patients who have chest pain due to angina, which occurs when the heart isn’t getting enough oxygen. We think it’s important for everyone to know the difference between angina and symptoms of a heart attack – it could save a life.
What is Angina?
Angina is a symptom, not a disease, but it still acts as a warning sign of problems with the circulatory system. When a person’s heart isn’t getting the oxygen that it needs, they will feel pain or discomfort in their chest. It can also cause pain the jaws, neck, or back.
Angina can be stable, which means that it consistently happens under a set of circumstances. For example, a person might feel those symptoms every time that they climb a flight of stairs. It can also be unstable, which means that the symptoms come on suddenly and break the normal pattern. Variant angina is a rare form that occurs when the person is at rest.
Is it a Heart Attack or Angina?
People often confuse angina and heart attacks. We generally encourage anyone who suffers from chest pain to get in touch with their doctor to get a full diagnosis, but there are some signs that can help the average person to distinguish between the two.
Angina most often happens in response to physical activity. It tends to go away fairly quickly, often in less than five minutes. Some people compare the type of pain to the feeling of indigestion, and it can spread out from the heart to the back, arms, or the rest of the upper body.
Heart attacks also involve pain, usually in the upper chest, but also in the rest of the torso and upper body, especially in the left arm. Feeling lightheaded, shortness of breath, sweating, and nausea are also fairly common symptoms of a heart attack. Resting tends not to help with these symptoms. Remember that the symptoms of a heart attack can vary significantly from one person to the next, so they can be hard to identify.
Recognizing Symptoms Saves Lives
The simple reality is that heart disease is always a serious problem. Heart disease is a leading cause of death, but there are a lot of things that people can do to reduce their risks. One of the biggest problems is that people tend to ignore warning signs, such as angina, simply because they do not feel like a heart attack or because they go away on their own.
Recognizing those symptoms and understanding that they are the first signs of a bigger problem is the first step on the road to treating them. Those who suffer from angina can use that knowledge to get the help they need to control their condition. Mistaking a heart attack for angina can also be a dangerous error, and understanding the difference between the two makes it more likely for individuals to get emergency help on time.
When in doubt, we encourage people to err on the side of caution and get immediate help in case it is a heart attack. Visit our doctors at SLMA to help you improve your heart health and identify issues such as angina or possible heart disease.