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What is Acute Angina?

Autumn Rivers
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Acute angina is a condition that occurs when there is suddenly not enough blood flowing to the heart. Symptoms usually include sudden chest pain, nausea, dizziness, and heart palpitations, and they tend to disappear while at rest. For this reason, it is different from a heart attack, although this condition is a common symptom of coronary artery disease, which means it needs immediate medical attention. In many cases, this issue is caused by coronary arteries that have become too narrow to allow for sufficient blood to flow to the heart.

Most cases appear as a result of activity, including during or just after exercise, a heavy meal, or even stress. All of these activities can require more blood oxygen flowing to the heart than usual, resulting in the narrowed coronary arteries not being able to keep up with the demand. In most cases, the symptoms disappear within minutes, as soon as the patient either rests or puts a nitroglycerin tablet in the mouth, as both actions can decrease blood pressure. This is what separates the symptoms of acute angina from those of a heart attack, as the signs of the latter condition do not usually disappear with rest.

There are two types of this condition, with the most common one being stable angina. Patients with stable angina usually have an idea of when their symptoms will occur, as they often show up when they are active, and disappear with rest or nitroglycerin. On the other hand, unstable angina is more severe, with symptoms that may show up at any time, and do not usually go away with rest or nitroglycerin. In fact, this condition usually precedes a heart attack, so it requires immediate medical attention. Fortunately, this type is much rarer than stable angina.

The most common symptom of acute angina is usually chest discomfort, which is usually described as pressure, heaviness, or even a sharp stabbing pain. This sign may be accompanied by heart palpitations, with the feeling that the heart is going to pound out of the chest. Indigestion, nausea, and even vomiting may occur at the same time, causing the patient to be severely uncomfortable. Another symptom of acute angina is often dizziness or shortness of breath, which is due to the reduced flow of oxygen to the brain. Not surprisingly, anxiety, sweating, and fatigue also often occur during the sudden onset of acute angina, especially if the patient is not aware of what is happening.

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Autumn Rivers
By Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for The Health Board, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.
Discussion Comments
By irontoenail — On Jun 13, 2013

It's amazing how quickly nitroglycerin works actually. I have a few older relatives who basically don't go anywhere without it, for fear of having an attack.

Unfortunately that means I'll probably be at risk for angina as well if I'm not careful since heart disease is hereditary. I'm hoping if I keep up a good diet and exercise regime it won't affect me as much, or as soon, but unfortunately, there's no action you can take that will completely guard against heart disease.

At least I basically know what angina pain feels like and, who knows? By the time I develop it they may have some kind of foolproof cure for it.

By browncoat — On Jun 13, 2013

@MrsPramm - It's often the other way around. People think they are having a heart attack, but it turns out to be a panic attack.

Angina symptoms are basically the same as heart attack symptoms, although I think they are slightly more straightforward (heart attacks present in strange ways sometimes) and they are probably not quite as severe.

Thinking it's a panic attack is no reason not to go to the doctor though. That's something that needs treatment as well.

By MrsPramm — On Jun 12, 2013

This is an extremely scary thing to happen if you aren't sure what's going on. My mother was suffering from angina for a while before it was diagnosed and she thought she was having panic attacks. She would suddenly feel like she couldn't breathe and get pain in her chest and basically felt completely terrified.

What was worse was that she was embarrassed about it, because she thought it was somehow her own fault and that the doctor would just tell her that she needed to stop imagining things.

I'm just glad she eventually decided to go because it obviously did turn out that she needed treatment for heart disease symptoms and without it she could have been seriously harmed or maybe could have even died.

Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for The Health Board, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.
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