What is the difference between angina and a heart attack?

Angina is a warning symptom of heart disease – a chest pain. The pain is brought on by a short period of decreased blood supply to the heart muscle. No permanent damage is done to the heart. Pain only lasts a few minutes and may be relieved by resting or taking a spray your doctor may have prescribed for you. 

A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart muscle becomes blocked and the heart is unable to receive enough oxygen to pump blood throughout the body. This may be due to the presence of a ‘clot ‘in the narrowed blood vessel resulting in permanent damage to the heart. Symptoms do not go away when the person rests or takes a spray of medication. 

If a person is experiencing pain for greater than five minutes - seek urgent medical attention! 


When angina occurs: 

  • Rest. Stop what you are doing 
  • Sit down 
  • Take nitroglycerin spray only as prescribed by your doctor

Nitroglycerin is a medication used in the treatment of angina (chest pain). It works by widening or dilating the coronary arteries which increases the flow of blood to the heart muscle. This drug can be taken as a spray or a tablet which you place under your tongue when experiencing angina. 

How is angina treated?  

Your doctor may prescribe medication in conjunction with lifestyle improvement measures such as: 

  • Physical activity 
  • Smoking 
  • Healthy eating and drinking 
  • Diabetes control 
  • High blood pressure control 

At some stage medication and lifestyle management may not be sufficient to control your symptoms. At this point your doctor will outline the options which may be available to you. These options include ‘stenting’ of the diseased arteries or ‘surgery’ referred to as a bypass ‘coronary artery bypass grafting’.