What is the Difference Between Heart Attack and Angina

22 Aug
2014
By Max Jones

Heart diseases, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases are amongst the leading causes of death in US counting to 800,000 adults each year. Of these, 150,000 follow in the age group of 65. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Atherosclerotic Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study and Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS), an estimated 10 million people in the US suffer from angina and heart attack. Two main reasons for heart disease as per National Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion are high blood pressure and cholesterol, which leads to heart problems like Angina and Heart attack.

What Is Angina?

Angina as known as ‘angina pectoris’ is a discomfort or pain in chest that occurs if any area of the heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. It is stated as the continuous deposition of a waxy substance called plaque on the inner walls of the arteries, proceeding to a condition called atherosclerosis. In this condition, the arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart are plugged up and arteries get narrower and narrower followed by reduction of blood supply.

What is the difference between Heart Attack and Angina?

There is only a thin line of demarcation and no major difference between the both. Both are characterised by a pain in the chest but if the pain goes away, then it is no danger but if the pain does not go even after rest then it is a warning sign and is an onset of heart attack.

The most common symptom is chest pain and discomfort. It is felt as a burning sensation, or tightness and squeezing at the chest area. Pain from angina generally spreads to the arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, throat or back. The pain may occur during physical activity, exercise, stress, periods of extreme cold or hot temperatures, after heavy meals or while smoking or drinking alcohol.

Other symptoms could also be associated with Angina and they are nausea, fatigue, weakness, light-headedness sweating and shortness of breath (more common in diabetics and older people).

Some people confuse angina with strokes. Stroke is independent of heart functioning, it has nothing to do, or has very little to do, with the heart. It takes place when the brain cells are deprived of the blood supply and results in a stroke. Symptoms of stroke include:-

  • Sudden numbness of face, arm or leg – especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause
  • Impaired vision in one or both the eyes
  • Sudden trouble in walking and locomotion
  • Sudden loss of coordination or balance

How to recognize if it is Angina or a heart attack?

The symptoms of angina can be similar to the symptoms of a heart attack. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether the pain you’re having is from a heart attack or something else. But, if you have any sort of chest pain and it lasts longer than a few minutes approx. 10 minutes and isn’t relieved by rest or angina medicine then you may have a heart attack and get medical help immediately.

Angina treatment

Angina treatment depends on the severity and persistence of the pain you feel. It can be simply treated with medication or by bringing changes in lifestyle but when the pain exhibits a different pattern of prevalence, then it should be examined carefully and requires a formal approach.

Medications

Angina can be treated with medications alone. Medications that can improve angina symptoms include:

  • Aspirin: Preventing blood clotting may reduce the risk of heart attack. Aspirin reduces the ability of formation of blood clots, resulting in easy flow of blood from the arteries.
  • Beta blockers: Beta-blockers also known as beta-adrenergic antagonists are the drugs that are prescribed to treat angina. Angina occurs when the heart requires more oxygen than it is getting. They help patients with angina by lowering the amount of oxygen the heart muscles require. They slow down the heart beat, decrease the force of the contractions of the heart muscles, and reduce blood vessel contraction in the heart.
  • Nitrates:  Nitrates act on angina by relaxing and widening the blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow to the heart muscle. The most common form of nitrate used are Nitroglycerin tablets.

  • Calcium antagonist drugs: These drugs block the calcium channel and also widen the blood vessels, thus facilitating increased blood flow to the heart. They also slow down pulse rate and reduces the workload on heart.
  • Statins: High level of cholesterol in the blood has never been considered good, therefore the body needs to get rid of cholesterol for a healthy heart. Statins drugs lower the blood cholesterol. They also reabsorb cholesterol. Statins may also help reduce inflammation in your blood vessels to lessen the chance of a heart attack.
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors: These drugs help relax blood vessels. ACE inhibitors prevent an enzyme in your body from producing angiotensin II, a substance in your body that affects your cardiovascular system in numerous ways, including narrowing of your blood vessels. This narrowing can cause high blood pressure and force your heart to work harder.

Surgical Methods

Angina pain can be cured by drugs and medicine and sometimes by Coronary Bypass Surgery. When there is a change in the pattern of the angina, then it may be termed as unstable angina and is more dangerous. Here a patient may require hospitalization, adjustment of medications and Angioplasty.

Lifestyle changes

Any type of disease in our body is triggered by bad lifestyle habits. To prevent or reduce the effects of such diseases, the risk factor should be controlled. This prevents onset of all diseases in the body, including angina and these risk factors include:

  • Smoking and drinking: Abstain from smoking and drinking
  • Healthy diet: Add whole grains, legumes, nuts, green vegetables and fruits in your diet. Cut down the consumption of oily and fatty food which is very important for a healthy heart
  • Cholesterol: Control the level of cholesterol. Nearly 2 out of 3 adults with high cholesterol and high blood pressure don’t have their condition under control
  • Exercise: Stay physically active to control the risk factors such as blood pressure, diabetes and high blood cholesterol
  • Avoid Stress: Try stress-reduction techniques and meditation

Experts believe that nearly 7 million people in the United States suffer from angina and is accelerated by heart related problems, however other factors too are responsible for causing angina like lung infection or a panic attack.

If you found this article helpful, do share it with your friends and family. Also, post comments in case you have any health concerns.

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Max Jones

A compulsive reader and a writer with a diploma in nutrition and diet. In my free time I love to explore my city while I promote pedal-biking.

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