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Is Angina the Precursor to a Heart Attack?

Angina, heart attack, heart disease — what does it all mean? Does angina mean a heart attack is imminent? 

Most angina attacks are short-lived, lasting only a few minutes. But it’s a serious warning that you are at risk for more serious heart-related events like a heart attack, cardiac arrest, or arrhythmia. 

Because most angina pain resolves in just a few minutes, you may wonder if it warrants a trip to the doctor. The answer is yes. You should report any angina pain to a cardiologist as soon as possible. Persistent angina may even demand a trip to your local emergency care facility. 

The Cardiovascular Institute of America has clinics in Tampa and Lutz, Florida, where you can see a seasoned cardiologist for angina pain and other related heart and vein conditions. 

Our heart disease specialists, led by Muthu Velusamy, MD, FACC, ABVM, can help you get to the bottom of what is causing your angina and possibly prevent more serious problems. 

What is angina?

Angina is chest pain that’s the result of decreased blood flow to the heart. This can have numerous causes, but the most common is coronary artery disease

This condition is due to fatty deposits of cholesterol in the arteries of your heart  forming plaque that narrows the interior of the artery and decreases blood flow to your heart. 

Coronary specialists classify angina into three types: 

Stable angina

Physical activity or exertion triggers this form of angina. Some examples include walking some distance, climbing stairs, extreme heat or cold, and stress. Your heart needs increased blood flow, but the narrowed arteries prevent proper blood flow and cause pain. 

Usually, we treat stable angina with rest and sometimes nitrate medications like nitroglycerin tablets, which expand your blood vessels quickly to increase blood flow.     

Unstable angina

Unstable angina is more serious because the plaque inside your artery causes a clot or rupture. The blockage or rupture decreases blood flow and critical oxygen to the heart. 

This is an extremely dangerous condition that can lead to a heart attack if blood flow isn’t restored quickly. Emergency treatment is required, as rest or nitrates are not effective treatments. 

Prinzmetal's (variant) angina

This form of angina is the result of a coronary artery spasm temporarily narrowing the artery. Common triggers include smoking, stress, and cocaine use. Severe pain occurs even when the person is resting. The common treatment is rest and angina medications. 

Learn to recognize angina symptoms

Everyone should learn to recognize angina symptoms, especially those at a higher risk of heart-related conditions. The primary symptom is chest pain that squeezes, burns, or feels like a weight is on your chest. 

Other symptoms include:

Women often experience different symptoms than men, including abdominal pain. Their chest pain also feels more like stabbing pain instead of pressure or burning. 

Should I see a cardiologist for angina?

Any pain or discomfort in your chest can indicate potential heart problems, and you should see a cardiologist for evaluation. 

If you experience chest pain for the first time, do not shrug it off. Seek emergency care and contact us as soon as possible to see Dr. Velusamy. An early diagnosis of a heart condition allows us to prescribe treatment quickly, and your chances of a better outcome increase. 

Is it angina or a heart attack?

Angina pain and related symptoms are so similar to many other problems that it can be impossible to tell if you have angina or are experiencing a heart attack. Only a thorough professional cardiac evaluation can determine the cause. 

Strong or persistent heart pain is serious and should be treated at your local emergency room. If you believe you’re having problems with angina, contact us at the Cardiovascular Institute of America today and schedule an evaluation. We’re located in Tampa and Lutz, Florida.

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