What is an angina attack?

Angina, or angina pectoris, is a sudden chest pain caused by low blood flow to the heart. Yes, some types of angina attacks can lead to heart complications.
Angina, or angina pectoris, is a sudden chest pain caused by low blood flow to the heart. Yes, some types of angina attacks can lead to heart complications.

Angina, or angina pectoris, is a sudden chest pain caused by low blood flow to the heart. It feels like pressure, tightness, or squeezing in the chest. 

Angina is a common health condition, but it is hard to differentiate it from other chest pains. If you often feel chest pain that doesn't go away quickly, you must seek help from a medical professional before angina leads to a heart attack.

‌Angina is often a symptom of coronary artery disease — plaque buildup in arteries that supply oxygenated blood to your heart.

Angina symptoms usually vary in each individual. But they generally include:

These symptoms can also be an indication of a heart attack if you have never experienced angina before. On the other hand, if you experience angina more often, you should follow your angina relief plan.

What type of angina leads to a heart attack?

So can angina lead to a heart attack? Yes, some types of angina attacks can lead to heart complications. That’s why healthcare providers need to monitor you and keep track of any signs of concern, such as shortness of breath or chest pain. There are a few types of angina, each with its own characteristics and risks:

  • Stable angina: It happens due to stress and follows a consistent pattern. This type is usually treated with medication or taking a rest in a few minutes.
  • Unstable angina: This type doesn't follow a pattern and is more severe than stable angina. It is longer and happens even if you are at rest. Since there is no medication to treat this condition, it can lead to a heart attack.
  • Microvascular angina: This type can be more common in women and happens any time of the day. It affects the small arteries of your heart. It is more painful, lasts longer, and doesn't go away with medication. 
  • Variant (Prinzmetal's) angina: A rare form of angina that happens when you are resting or sleeping. A sudden spasm in the arteries of your heart leads to this angina and causes severe pain. Proper medication can help with this type of chest pain.

How to identify a heart attack

Sudden sharp pain or discomfort in the chest can refer to both heart attack and angina.

If it is a heart attack, the symptoms won't ease in a few minutes, even after resting or taking medication. In the case of angina, you will feel fine after a few minutes of rest and taking your angina medicine (usually GTN or glyceryl trinitrate).

These steps will help you identify whether it is angina or a heart attack:

Step 1: Rest

As soon as you feel angina symptoms, leave whatever you are doing and have some rest. Take your GTN medicine as prescribed by the doctor.

Step 2: Wait

Keep lying and wait for at least five minutes. If the symptoms don't go away, take aspirin unless your doctor has advised against it or you’re allergic.

Step 3: Wait five minutes more

If the discomfort remains after another five minutes, it is most likely a heart attack. Immediately seek help from emergency staff by dialing 911. 

When should you see a doctor?

If your chest pain starts happening frequently or stays for longer, you must visit your doctor at your earliest convenience.

On the onset of chest pain, always seek help from emergency medical staff and ask for transportation. Don't try to drive on your own to the hospital. 

If you are experiencing chest pain for the first time, you must talk to your doctor to identify the reasons causing the pain. After the diagnosis, the doctor will give you a proper treatment plan depending on the type of your angina.

Preventing angina from turning into a heart attack

Apart from medical treatment, you can also make some lifestyle changes in your routine to prevent angina and heart attacks. These include:

  • A heart-friendly diet and avoiding unhealthy meals
  • Working out regularly
  • Keeping track of your calorie count and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding stress triggers
  • Lowering alcohol consumption
  • Quitting smoking or drug intake
  • Restricting exposure to very hot or cold temperatures
  • Receiving proper treatment for other health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, or diabetes

QUESTION

In the U.S., 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 11/8/2021
References
SOURCES:

American Heart Association: "Angina (Chest Pain)."

Better Health Channel: "Heart Conditions - Angina."

Heart Foundation: "Angina."

Mayo Clinic: "Heart attack."

NHS: "Angina."