An actor's heart attack on TV or in the movies often makes for a dramatic scene. In reality, however, symptoms may be more subtle or difficult to recognise. When you or someone you know experiences sudden chest pain, it is likely to appear similar to a heart attack. But is it really a heart attack?

While this could be the case in some situations, the cause of this pain could often be something else—angina. Angina and heart attack, two distinct medical conditions, share similar signs and symptoms because they are caused by the same condition—coronary artery disease. Despite this, both heart conditions cause vastly different types of damage.

When you have a heart attack, there is permanent damage to your heart, whereas angina causes no such damage. Furthermore, angina can also be an early warning sign of a heart attack. There are, however, some individuals who suffer from angina without having a heart attack.

Does this sound confusing?

Let us take a closer look at angina and how it differs from a heart attack.

What Causes Angina?

Angina occurs when the blood supply to your heart decreases as a result of narrowed coronary arteries. The walls of your arteries narrow as plaque builds up, making it harder for the heart to get sufficient blood. In response, this causes your heart to beat harder and faster to improve blood supply, resulting in symptoms of angina, which indicate that your heart needs to rest.

One of the key differences between angina and a heart attack is that angina is caused by narrowed coronary arteries, while a heart attack is caused by blocked coronary arteries. As a result, angina does not result in permanent heart damage.

Some people report experiencing symptoms of angina before having a heart attack, while others never experience the warning signs of angina before a heart attack.

Symptoms of Angina

The symptoms of angina vary from person to person and the most common warning signs include:

  • Discomfort or tightness in the chest that spreads to the back, shoulders, neck, or jaw.
  • Discomfort in the arm, jaw, or neck but no discomfort in the chest.

Depending on your condition, the symptoms can either be mild or severe. If you have not been diagnosed with angina before but experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, you may have a heart attack. It is essential to seek immediate medical assistance in such instances.

Nevertheless, if you have previously been diagnosed with angina and experience the symptoms, you should follow the angina action plan prescribed by your doctor.

Angina And Heart Attack: The Differences

While angina seems similar to the sensations of a heart attack, careful observation will reveal subtle differences between the two. In order to figure out the variances, let us compare the two.

Common Symptoms of Angina

  • Chest pain that disappears after a few minutes
  • Discomfort that feels similar to severe indigestion
  • Pain starting from the chest and radiating to the arm and upper body
  • Chest pain that happens only when you are working out or doing intense activities
  • Relief after taking heart medicines or resting

Common Symptoms of Heart Attack

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Light-headedness
  • Pain or pressure in the back, stomach, neck, jawline, or arm
  • A squeezing pain on the left side of your chest

When Should You Seek Help?

One of the biggest problems is that people often tend to ignore warning signs, such as angina, as the symptoms usually go away on their own. Recognizing those symptoms and understanding that they are the first signs of a bigger problem is the first step towards treating them.

If you suffer from angina, your doctor is likely to recommend a specialist who will guide you and help design a treatment strategy to manage your risk and improve your overall health. Experiencing chest pains can be scary, and sometimes confusing. It is important to seek immediate medical care whether you are suffering from angina or a heart attack.