Difference Between Angina and a Heart Attack - Are you sure you know the difference?

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Definition of Angina

Angina or “angina pectoris” occurs when the cardiac (heart) muscles are not getting enough oxygen via the bloodstream. The most common symptoms include pressure in the chest area. Indigestion-like symptoms (i.e. nausea, vomiting) may also persist. In general, angina can be the result of exertion, extreme temperatures, stress, or consuming a large meal. Though most angina episodes only last moments, they can also last a few years.

Types of Angina

There are 3 basic types of angina. The first is called stable angina and it usually occurs after exercise or exertion and is usually treated with rest and/or medicine. Unstable angina, the second type, can occur at rest or during exercise and is less likely to be responsive to rest or medication. Variant angina is the third type. It usually occurs when a person is at rest, usually late at night or in the morning. It can usually be treated with medicine.

Definition of a Heart Attack

A heart attack is the result of a blockage of blood flow to heart muscles. If this blockage is not reversed in a timely manner, the heart muscles can die. If enough muscles are affected and the heart is not able to pump blood to other parts of the body, the heart attack can be fatal. The most common heart attack symptoms are chest pain, mild or strong pressure in the center of the chest, difficulty breathing, gastric-related symptoms (nausea, vomiting), cold sweats, and pain in the upper body (especially in the arms, neck, back, and jaw).

Difference Between Angina and a Heart Attack

Based on the similarity in symptoms between angina and a heart attack, it is easy to see how the two conditions are confused. Here are the basic differences:

  • Angina pain is usually short in duration and can usually be relieved with rest or medicine; heart attack pain is usually longer and is sometimes responsive to medication but usually not to rest.
  • By definition, angina is a temporary interruption of oxygenated blood flow to the heart; a heart attack is a blockage and sudden.
  • Though a heart attack is more severe, the symptoms can sometimes be milder.
  • A heart attack can cause irreversible damage to the heart; the effects of angina are usually temporary.

Take Home Message

This article explains the subtle difference between angina and a heart attack. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of either, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Most people who die from heart attacks could have been saved if they’d received help sooner. Error on the side of caution and get some help-even if the symptoms resolve within a few minutes.


What is a heart attack? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/HeartAttack/HeartAttack_WhatIs.html

What is angina? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Angina/Angina_WhatIs.html