angina vs heart attack

Angina vs. Heart Attack: 5 Similarities and Differences

Angina vs. Heart Attack

Are people experiencing angina vs. a heart attack? This article will discuss angina vs. heart attack, how they are similar, how they are different and when you should seek medical help.

7 Signs of a Heart Attack

Here are 7 signs that you may be having a heart attack.

  1. Chest pain or discomfort: Described as pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest.
  2. Pain or discomfort in other areas: Pain may also be felt in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  3. Shortness of breath: Difficulty breathing, even without chest pain.
  4. Cold sweats: Feeling clammy and experiencing perspiration unrelated to activity or temperature.
  5. Nausea or lightheadedness: Feeling sick to your stomach or dizzy.
  6. Fatigue: Unusual and extreme tiredness, especially in women.
  7. Unexplained anxiety: A sense of impending doom or feeling extremely anxious without apparent reason.

Angina vs. Heart Attack: What Are They?


Angina is a type of chest pain or discomfort that occurs as a result of reduced blood flow to the heart. It is the most common symptom of heart disease, experienced by around 9 million Americans.

Stable Angina

Angina can be stable or unstable. Stable angina occurs when chest pain is encountered in the presence of certain factors, such as emotional stress, changes in temperature or during exercise and other forms of physical activity. Usually, stable angina is referred to as chest pain upon physical exertion. This is because when faced with these factors, the heart works extra hard. Stable angina is usually relieved with rest or when medications are taken to dilate the blood vessels of the heart. Assessment and management of these patients are usually done in an outpatient setting.

Unstable Angina

On the other hand, unstable angina occurs when chest pain is experienced even at rest. This doesn’t go away despite resting or taking medications. If left untreated, unstable angina can lead to a heart attack. Unstable angina is a serious symptom, and immediate assessment and management must be done. Assessment and management of these patients are usually done in an inpatient setting.

Heart Attack

A heart attack, medically known as a myocardial infarction, occurs when the heart experiences severe blockage to blood flow and the heart doesn’t get enough oxygen, damaging the heart muscle, and eventually leading to muscle death. With prolonged oxygen deprivation without medical intervention, heart attacks are fatal.

Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease is not a heart attack per se, but angina and heart attacks are sequelae of blockages of the heart vessels due to coronary heart disease. Some people with coronary heart disease might not show any signs or symptoms. For other people with coronary heart disease, they will not experience angina, and a heart attack is the first sign of coronary heart disease.

The Similarities and Differences

1. Similarity: Symptom Presentation

Angina and heart attacks are similar in their presentation. People who experience these usually present with chest pain. The type of chest pain can be the same. People with angina or heart attack usually describe their chest pain as a squeezing, stabbing or crushing type of pain. Sometimes the pain can radiate or extend to other areas of the body, such as in the shoulder or arms, jaw and neck, abdomen or back. There can also be an accompanying difficulty of breathing or a feeling of fatigue. Because of this, people think that angina is a heart attack.

2. Similarity: Causes

The cause of angina and heart attacks can be similar as well. Angina and heart attacks can be due to blockage of the heart vessels due to increased cholesterol levels or blood clots, which cause physical blockage or high blood pressure that leads to muscle thickening, leading to the narrowing of the blood vessel cavity.

3. Similarity: Risk Factors

Risk factors for angina and heart attacks are also similar, including:

  • High cholesterol levels.
  • Persistently high or poorly controlled blood pressure.
  • Smoking.
  • Diabetes.
  • Obesity.
  • Poor lifestyle (sedentary activity, poor diet).
  • Family history of heart disease.

It is safe to say that to avoid angina vs. heart attack, you should minimize these risks, especially avoiding those that are within your control.

4. Difference: Condition Classification

Although angina and a heart attack have their similarities, they differ greatly in many ways. Angina is a symptom and usually pertains to an underlying coronary heart disease, while a heart attack or myocardial infarction is a disease in itself.

5. Difference: Severity

Angina, especially stable angina, only occurs during physical exertion or in the presence of other factors. It is not usually life-threatening, whereas heart attacks are usually life-threatening, can occur suddenly and even at rest warrant immediate medical care.

Needless to say, any type of chest pain, whether it is stable angina or not, needs the evaluation of your nearest physician.

Can Aortic Stenosis Cause a Heart Attack?

Aortic stenosis is a condition where the aortic valve, which controls blood flow from the heart's left ventricle to the aorta (the main artery that carries oxygenated blood to the body), becomes narrowed and obstructs blood flow. This narrowing can lead to various complications, but it doesn't directly cause a heart attack in the conventional sense.

However, aortic stenosis can increase the risk of a heart attack indirectly through several mechanisms:

  • Left ventricular hypertrophy: The narrowing of the aortic valve forces the heart to work harder to pump blood through the restricted opening.
  • Coronary artery disease: While aortic stenosis itself doesn't cause coronary artery disease (CAD), the risk factors for aortic stenosis, such as age, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, can also contribute to the development of CAD.
  • Increased stress on the heart: Aortic stenosis can lead to an imbalance between the supply of oxygen and the heart's demand for oxygen-rich blood.

Heart Specialist Hospitals

Stanford University Medical Center is renowned for its cutting-edge cardiovascular care, boasting a world-class team of heart specialists, advanced research facilities and state-of-the-art technology. Patients from around the globe seek their expertise in treating complex heart conditions, ensuring top-notch care and innovative treatment options.

Cleveland Clinic, a leading academic medical center, is internationally recognized for its excellence in cardiovascular medicine. With a long history of breakthroughs in heart care, their team of heart specialists offers comprehensive and compassionate treatment for patients with various heart conditions, consistently achieving exceptional outcomes and setting new standards in cardiac care.

When Should You Seek Medical Attention?

Chest pain is one of the common causes of doctor consultations for adults. You may often be told that once you experience chest pain, you should consult a doctor. This is because heart disease is a serious and potentially life-threatening cause of chest pain. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. where it accounts for one out of four deaths. Coronary heart disease, what most people might consider a heart attack, is the most common type of heart disease, which occurs in about 18 million adults above the age of 20.

When experiencing chest pain, it is important to differentiate musculoskeletal and other nonspecific causes of chest pain from serious cardiovascular conditions. It is important to consult a physician for any new onset of chest pain so that it can be evaluated to catch serious heart or lung conditions early. Urgent medical attention should be given to those who experience chest pain that persists for more than 15 minutes, chest pain experienced at rest or chest pain associated with other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, sweating, vomiting or loss of consciousness. Do not delay consulting for these kinds of chest pain. It can save a life.