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Angina Pain vs Myocardial Infarction Pain: Understanding the Key Differences

Angina and myocardial infarction (MI), commonly referred to as a heart attack, are two different conditions that can cause chest pain. However, they differ in their severity, causes, and treatment.



chest pain


Angina Pain

Angina is a type of chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle does not get enough blood and oxygen. This is usually caused by a narrowing or blockage in one or more of the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart. Angina is often described as a tight, squeezing, or pressure-like discomfort in the chest. The pain may also be felt in the arms, neck, jaw, shoulder, or back.

Angina pain typically lasts for a few minutes and is relieved with rest or medication, such as nitroglycerin. It can be triggered by physical exertion, emotional stress, or exposure to cold weather. Some people may experience angina while resting, which is called unstable angina and is a medical emergency.

Myocardial Infarction Pain

Myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack, occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, usually due to a blood clot. This results in damage to the heart muscle, which can be life-threatening. The most common symptom of myocardial infarction is chest pain, which can be similar to angina but is often more severe and prolonged.

Myocardial infarction pain is usually described as a crushing, pressure-like sensation in the chest that may also be felt in the arms, neck, jaw, shoulder, or back. The pain may last for more than a few minutes and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, and lightheadedness.

Unlike angina, myocardial infarction pain is not relieved with rest or nitroglycerin. Prompt medical attention is essential to prevent further damage to the heart muscle and increase the chances of survival.

Key Differences of angina and myocardial infarction

  1. Severity of pain: The pain associated with myocardial infarction is usually more severe and prolonged than the pain associated with angina.

  2. Duration of pain: Angina pain typically lasts for a few minutes and is relieved with rest or medication, while myocardial infarction pain lasts for more than a few minutes and is not relieved with rest or nitroglycerine but relieved by opioids.

  3. Triggers: Angina pain is often triggered by physical exertion, emotional stress, or exposure to cold weather, while myocardial infarction pain can occur suddenly and without any obvious triggers.

  4. Medical emergency: Myocardial infarction is a medical emergency that requires prompt medical attention to prevent further damage to the heart muscle and increase the chances of survival, while angina is not usually a medical emergency.

  5. ECG reading: Myocardial infarction has large peaked T waves (or hyperacute T waves), then ST elevation, then negative T waves and finally pathologic Q waves develop, while in angina, might have normal ECG at rest.

  6. Cardiac enzymes: The majority of patients with an acute MI will have elevation in troponins within 2 to 3 hours of arrival at the emergency department, versus 6 to 12 hours with creatine kinase, while in angina, cardiac enzymes and Troponin levels are normal.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Can angina pain lead to a heart attack? Angina pain itself is not a heart attack, but it can be a warning sign of an increased risk of a heart attack. If you experience angina pain, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional to assess your condition.

  2. Is it possible to prevent angina pain? Adopting a healthy lifestyle, managing risk factors (such as high blood pressure and cholesterol), and following your doctor's recommendations can help reduce the risk of developing angina pain.

  3. Are the symptoms of angina pain and myocardial infarction pain always the same? The symptoms of angina pain and myocardial infarction pain can overlap, but myocardial infarction pain is typically more severe and prolonged. Any chest pain should be taken seriously and evaluated by a healthcare professional.

  4. Can women experience different symptoms of angina pain or myocardial infarction pain? Yes, women may experience different symptoms of angina pain or myocardial infarction pain compared to men. Women are more likely to have atypical symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, or back pain.

  5. What should I do if I suspect a heart attack? If you suspect a heart attack, call emergency services immediately. Do not wait or attempt to drive yourself to the hospital. Acting quickly can significantly improve the chances of a positive outcome.


Although both angina and myocardial infarction can cause chest pain, they differ in their severity, duration, triggers, and treatment. If you experience chest pain or any other symptoms of a heart attack, seek medical attention immediately. Remember, early intervention is key to saving lives.


NCLEX: National Council Licensure Examination, OIIQ: Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec, OIIAQ: Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers auxiliaires du Québec

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