Chest pain is the major symptom of angina. This is usually felt as pain in the chest described as:
Tightness in the middle of the chest.
The pain may spread to the left shoulder, arm and hand or to the neck, throat and jaw
It may feel as if someone is squeezing or pressing on the chest, or it may feel like a stabbing pain or numbness.
The pain may last from one to 10 minutes
It is usually associated with overexertion (or in some people when they get over excited)
Sometimes there are additional symptoms such as:
Sometimes the pain is low grade, not very painful, more of a discomfort in the chest.
The features of a heart attack - which include chest pain, sweating, and nausea - resemble those of angina, although there are major differences between the two conditions.
In angina the pain lasts from 1 minute to 10 minutes and then stops. The pain should also stop with rest.
Heart attack lasts much longer than angina, and the pain of a heart attack generally continue even after a person rests.
What is the difference between a heart attack and angina?
Partial narrowing of the artery
Partial or total blockage of the artery from a blood clot
No permanent heart muscle damage
Permanent damage of the heart muscle, unless the blockage can be removed quickly by "clot-buster" medicine or other means
Lasts one to 10 minutes
Lasts at least 20 minutes
Goes away with rest
May continue after rest
Does chest pain always mean a heart problem?
Chest pain does not always mean that there is a problem with the heart. Other conditions can be confused with angina. For example:
Anxiety and tension are common causes of sharp chest pain, especially in the area under the left breast. These sensations differ from those of angina, which seldom is concentrated in this region. Anxiety-related chest pain may be accompanied by tenderness or made worse by movement.
Gallbladder disease or indigestion also can cause pain in the chest, although such pain is associated with food rather than exercise.
When is angina an emergency?
Usually there are specific signs that angina is very serious or, indeed, an emergency. Whether or not a person has stable or unstable angina, it is important to go to the hospital IMMEDIATELY if anginal pain or discomfort is:
More severe than previously experienced
Getting worse or lasting longer than 20 minutes
Accompanied by weakness, nausea, or fainting
Unchanged after taking three nitroglycerin tablets
Happening at an unusual time (for example, during rest)
If ambulance service is not available locally, a person should be driven to the nearest hospital and should NOT attempt to drive there alone. The individual's family or friends should be made aware of the location and names of any angina medicines that are being used. They also should be familiar with warning signs of an anginal emergency.