ZocdocAnswersWhat is the difference between angina and a heart attack?

Question

What is the difference between angina and a heart attack?

The symptoms are so similar that I don't know how to distinguish between them. My mom has heart problems and she often says that her symptoms are caused by angina. Can she have a heart attack without us knowing?

Answer

You have asked a great question here and one that should be discussed with a cardiologist. One of the major problems we have is that often there is no way for us to distinguish between angina and a heart attack just by the feeling itself because they feel exactly the same. Both are caused by an inadequate amount of blood flow to the muscle of the heart. This happens because of atherosclerosis (which causes blockages) in the coronary arteries that bring blood to the heart itself. There are two types of angina; stable and unstable. Stable angina comes on when someone exercises and is relieved by rest. This pattern is not typical of a heart attack and marks the only fairly reliable distinguishing feature between the two. Unstable angina occurs at rest, or exercise, but is not relieved by rest. There is no way (other than a blood test and/or an EKG) to tell the difference between unstable angina and a heart attack. In all of the cases above, your mom should be followed very closely by a cardiologist. I suggest that your mom schedule an appointment with one right away if she hasn't already. If the cardiologist agrees that she is having angina, then she will need further testing with a stress test and/or perhaps a cardiac catheterization.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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