How To Differentiate Angina From A Heart Attack?

Heart Attack

Angina pectoris and myocardial infarction are two pathologies that fall into the category of ischemic heart disease. The latter refers to a cardiac injury that occurs when the blood flow to the heart is altered.

The problem is that both situations produce similar symptoms and tend to be confused. Also, its incidence has increased considerably in recent years, especially due to the modern lifestyle.

Today, acute myocardial infarction remains a major cause of death. For its part, angina pectoris is considered an important risk factor for heart attack. Therefore, this time we explain how they differ and how they are treated.

What is angina pectoris?

Angina pectoris occurs when the blood flow from the vessels supplying the heart is temporarily reduced. They are the so-called coronary arteries responsible for nourishing the myocardium, which is the muscle that allows the heart to beat and pump blood.

When the muscle does not receive enough oxygenated blood, the heart cannot function properly. Unfortunately, these arteries are very susceptible to atherosclerosis, since their caliber is small.

The development of atherosclerosis occurs when fat deposits accumulate in the blood vessels, which generates a narrowing. In angina, this blockage makes it difficult to nourish the heart muscle in situations where more oxygen is needed, as blood flow becomes insufficient.

However, it can also cause problems in situations of cold, stress, or in patients who smoke, since it causes the coronary arteries to contract and narrow.

What is a myocardial infarction?

The heart attack is a sudden blockage of blood flow to the heart. Its cause, like angina pectoris, is usually atherosclerosis. However, in this particular case, the fatty plaque present in the arteries breaks.

Consequently, a clot forms that obstructs one of the coronary arteries and, in turn, a situation of ischemia occurs. The latter is when the myocardium runs out of oxygen, and its cells die.

Angina pectoris is considered by many doctors to be a warning for the heart attack itself. Angina does not generate definitive damage to the heart, but heart attack does, and a blockage usually precedes both situations in the coronary arteries.

What is the difference between angina and heart attack?

Without a doubt, the main difference between these pathologies is that the infarction produces an injury to the heart, whereas angina does not. In addition to this, there are other differences at the symptomatic level that help guide the diagnosis.

The heart attack produces intense pain in the center of the chest that usually radiates to the left arm. Even in some situations, depending on where the muscle damage has occurred, the pain may spread to the right arm.

This pain does not subside or improve with nitroglycerin, a medicine that helps the arteries dilate. In the case of angina, when nitroglycerin is administered, it usually reduces pain.

Also, a heart attack is usually accompanied by shortness of breath and heavy sweating. In angina, the pain is not as intense, nor does it radiate. There is also no dyspnea, and the symptoms can go away on their own in most cases.

Are there other differences?

In addition to the symptomatic differences we have mentioned, there are other important aspects to consider. In angina, sometimes, you can find the reason that triggered the episode.

For example, when pain appears after physical exercise or in the face of strong emotions, it is indicative of angina. However, it should be noted that, although the symptoms subside, it is necessary to consult a doctor and treat the situation.

That leads us to another difference: treatment. Adopting healthy habits to reduce or stop atherosclerosis may be enough to treat some cases of angina. Nitrates, blood-thinning medications, and cholesterol-lowering drugs are also used.

However, it is true that in many cases, an intervention is required to ensure that the coronary arteries have adequate flow. In the case of a heart attack, it is essential to re-establish blood flow, so treatment usually includes coronary intervention.

Angina and heart attack deserve attention.

Both pathologies are serious and life-threatening. Any symptoms we have mentioned should be treated as a medical emergency. It should be the professional in cardiology who carries out the pertinent studies to find out what pathology it is.

Alex Marshall

Alex Marshall

My responsibilities include interacting with the Board of Directors, data entry, accounts payable, payroll, grant report entry, managing the organization's HR, helping and creating organizational and program budgets in collaboration with the ED and Program Direct, and other misc. tasks.

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