What Is Difference Between Heart Attack and Angina?

Warning signs of a heart attack or angina can be chest pain or chest discomfort, shortness of breath, extreme sweating, etc. Because the signs of a heart attack and angina are very similar, it is sometimes very hard to tell the difference between them. However, any chest discomfort should be taken seriously. In cases when you notice symptoms that you have never had before, it is about time to seek emergency medical help. 

Difference Between Heart Attack and Angina

Damage to Heart

  • In cases of angina, the heart does not get the necessary amount of oxygen needed. Angina often doesn’t cause permanent damage to the heart.
  • On the other hand, a heart attack causes permanent and irreversible damage to the heart muscle. It is a serious medical condition which requires proper immediate medical help as it can quickly lead to death.

Symptoms and First Aid

Difference between heart attack and angina can sometimes be quite difficult to tell. Knowing their signs and symptoms can help. 

Heart Attack

Common signs and symptoms of a heart attack are:

  • Chest pain or a sensation of tightness, pressure or squeezing in the chest
  • Pain or discomfort which spreads to the shoulders, arm, neck, jaw or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Cold sweats
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Abdominal discomfort, etc.

The clinical presentation of a heart attack is different from one person to the other. While some have a dramatic heart attack with severe symptoms, others have only mild pain and discomfort. In certain cases, sudden cardiac arrest is the first and last symptom of a heart attack.

If a person is having a heart attack in your presence, follow these steps and you can save his/her life:

  • Call emergency.
  • Give the person 300 mg of aspirin.
  • Start CPR if the person stops breathing, is unconscious and doesn’t respond anymore.
  • Continue CPR until help arrives.


Angina is only a temporary chest pain occurring whenever the heart muscle is not receiving the necessary amount of oxygen. The coronary arteries are usually obstructed or narrowed in these cases. Certain factors can trigger angina, such as stress, heavy meals, extreme temperatures, physical activity, and exertion, etc.

Wonder difference between heart attack and angina? Common signs and symptoms of angina are:

  • Chest pain, discomfort and a sensation of tightness, pain, and discomfort often spreading into the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness, etc.

In cases of stable angina, the person suffering from it knows what triggers the symptoms so he/she can successfully prevent them from occurring. Nitroglycerin is always recommended in these cases. If, however, no relief is achieved after using nitroglycerin, you should seek immediate medical help.

In cases of unstable angina, the signs and symptoms can occur anytime, even with minimal stress or physical activity. Unstable angina is very difficult to diagnose from a heart attack, so it is better to seek immediate medical help than to regret it.

If you are experiencing chest pain for the first time in your life, you should not use someone else’s nitroglycerin. Seek immediate medical help instead.

How Is Heart Attack Treated?

You already know the difference between heart attack and angina. How are they treated?

In case of heart attack, once the symptoms start, better results are achieved when the treatment is started within the first two hours. If the treatment begins later than two hours, the survival chances are reduced and the damage to the heart muscle is increased.

The goal of the treatment in case of a heart attack is to break up or prevent blood clots from occurring and stabilizing the plaque, and prevent further damage to the heart muscle. Medications commonly used for the treatment of a heart attack include:

  • Aspirin which will prevent any blood clotting
  • Antiplatelets such as Plavix, Brilinta, etc. which also prevent blood clotting
  • Thrombolytics in order to dissolve the blood clots

These medications are usually combined together for a better result. Other treatment options of a heart attack include angioplasty, stent, and implantation. Angioplasty and stents are surgical procedures which tend to open up the narrowed coronary arteries of the heart. A bypass surgery is also possible, which is usually performed a couple of days after a heart attack in order to restore the blood supply to the heart muscle as much as possible.

The above-mentioned treatment will not prevent any further heart attacks from occurring. If you already had a heart attack, it does not mean that you won’t have another one later in life. However, several measures can help you live a healthy life and prevent future heart attacks.

The best thing to do is to change your way of living completely, change your diet and try to eat healthy foods as much as possible, be physically active, reduce stress, take the medications prescribed regularly and go for regular checkups at your doctor’s office.

How Can You Manage Angina?

People with stable angina manage its symptoms well. Angina management includes taking prescribed medications regularly. You should keep the nitroglycerin always with you if your doctor prescribed it to you. Once the symptoms of angina occur, just sit down and rest. Use the nitroglycerin as instructed.

Knowing how to live with angina is important.

  • In general, you should start your day slowly, warming out before any physical activity.
  • Take the necessary time to digest a meal and rest.
  • Change your diet and try to eat healthy foods as much as possible.
  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of eating larger meals.
  • If an activity initiates the signs and symptoms of angina, avoid it. Know your limits. Know when to rest or when to be active.

In cases when the signs of angina are becoming more severe than before or if you notice that the medications you are taking so far are not giving the desired effect like they used to, you should:

  • Ask a family member to help you in chores that you have difficulties performing.
  • Use nitroglycerin before an activity that you know is going to initiate the signs and symptoms of angina.
  • Get a checkup at your doctor’s office as soon as possible.
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