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HEart Health: Heed the Warning Signs of Angina & Heart Attack

Imagine your loved one is feeling pressure or a squeezing feeling in his or her chest. What would you do? You would probably call 911, as you would figure those would be the signs of a heart attack. What if the pain were in his or her jaw, shoulder, arm, back or neck? What would you do then?

You should do the same thing — or advise your loved one to do the same if he or she is feeling this kind of intense pain and is alone — and call 911. Chances are, your loved one might be having a heart attack, or he or she might be experiencing angina.

Angina? What’s the difference between a heart attack and angina? Angina is temporary chest pain or pressure that is caused by the heart muscle not getting enough oxygen. Arteries in the heart that normally receive oxygenated blood from the lungs sometimes become narrowed or blocked.

It sounds similar, but is different from a heart attack. In a heart attack, blood flow to the heart muscle is slowed — as in angina — or cut off. This is usually because of a blood clot formed in an artery of the heart. The symptoms of heart attack are mainly the same as those as angina, however, the pain and pressure are more intense, and may include shortness of breath, a cold sweat, and nausea.

In any case, you or your loved one should call 911 as soon as you experience these sorts of intense pain. Many people who experience these symptoms choose to ignore them as temporary or not serious. Some people ignore them because they are afraid of “crying wolf” if they are wrong and the pain just turns out to be indigestion.

There are other indicators to consider here. For example, during heart attack, women experience chest pain, but they also experience unusual fatigue and abdominal pain. Keep this in mind when determining the kind of pain your loved one is experiencing when talking to emergency personnel about whether it might just be angina he or she is experiencing.

Perhaps your loved one has what is known as stable angina, meaning that this discomfort happens on an infrequent basis and can be stablized with drugs like nitroglycerin, beta blockers or calcium channel blockers. Stable angina can last anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes.

If this is the first time your loved one has experienced chest pain, do not let him or her take anyone else’s nitroglycerin. Call 911 and go to the hospital immediately. Be sure to talk to your loved one’s doctor. Further tests and treatment may be necessary which can help prevent a heart attack from happening. Talk to your loved one’s doctor about family history and other risk factors to plan a course of treatment if this angina becomes chronic.