Angina, more simply known as chest pain, occurs when there is a decrease in the flow of oxygenated blood to the heart. Many people easily confuse angina with ‘heart attack’. The main difference is that: in angina, there is only a temporary reduction in blood supply to certain parts of the heart but there is NO damage to the muscle tissues of the heart; whereas in heart attack, there is a blockage in the blood vessels that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart causing permanent damage to the heart tissues.
Disclaimer: this post on angina versus heart attacks is for learning purposes only. To learn to effectively recognize, differentiate and manage these emergencies enrol in St Mark James first aid classes.
Basically, angina (angina pectoris) is caused by the constriction of a blood vessel that supplies blood to the heart (arteriosclerosis) while heart attack is occurs when a fatty tissues or plaque blocks a blood vessel that supplies blood to the heart (coronary artery disease).
In some cases, an ‘angina attack’ preludes a heart attack but this is not always the case. Nevertheless, all angina attacks should be considered seriously. It should be seen as a warning to the casualty to seek medical help for appropriate medical testing and diagnosis.
Angina is often described as an unpleasant, crushing feeling and tightness of the chest. But unlike ‘heart attack’, angina pain lasts only for a few minutes and is often relieved by taking medicines and/or rest. The severity of chest pain may also vary and can affect people in different ways. It is frequently felt across the centre of the chest but may also be felt in the shoulder, the jaw or neck, or radiating down the arms and in the hands. Others may experience very minimal pain but may complain of breathlessness, especially in diabetic patients.
Meanwhile, the pain associated with heart attack may last for longer than fifteen minutes, and is often described as crushing-like feeling. It is not relieved by medication and persists despite rest. The pain experience is not like in movies that occur suddenly rather it may start as a mild pain or discomfort gradually becoming more severe.
Angina is frequently caused by sudden extreme emotions, by exertion, exposure to cold weather, or after a heavy meal. It can also occur while at rest or in the middle of sleep. For many people with chronic angina, the pain develops at specific times of the day, such as in late afternoon or early morning. Heart attack may be precipitated by the same situations but can also occur without any reason.
The contributing factors of angina and heart attack are almost the same:
- High blood pressure
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercise
- Genetic predisposition
As a general rule in first aid: if you are in doubt about the casualty’s symptoms, treat any chest pain as if it were ‘heart attack’.
To learn more about differentiating between heart attacks and angina sign up for first aid classes through St Mark James.
- Getting Prepared for Emergencies – more information
- Appendicitis: Causes and Symptoms – more information