Living Through Angina

Hands holding chest

You might feel like you’re hav­ing a heart attack, but the symp­toms differ. What is angi­na, and is there any­thing you can do to pre­vent or treat it?

Publish 15 February 2022

A Semblance of Relief

February Heart Health Awareness Month

My back was aching for over six months without relief. As a very kind gesture, my mother-in-law gave me some money to buy a zero-gravity chair. [1] A close friend offered to rent a truck and drive me to a San Diego discount outlet. I picked out a reclining leather chair with great features before heading back to Los Angeles.

When I arrived home, another friend stopped by. So the three of us began assembly. We replaced the standard foam with memory foam. Afterward, we were drinking refreshments while standing in the living room, talking.

Relief Turns To Terror

Angina Feels Like

Without warning, I felt extreme pressure on my chest. It was so forceful, that my lungs could not expand. So while taking shallow breaths, I fell on the sofa grasp­ing my chest.

I then slid down supine on the floor as though it would distance me from the pres­sure. Unable to vocalize my distress, I was panting like a pregnant woman between contractions in a maternity ward.

The ordeal lasted perhaps 3 minutes while my audience was immobilized by shock. Finally, my lungs filled and I could breathe again. So I got up, reclined in the newly assembled chair, and thanked my two best friends for standing around while I nearly died!

Another Kind of Pain

Could this have been stable angina? It might seem like a heart attack or stroke but there is a difference. [2] You feel pressure, lots of it, as though a sumo wrestler were kneeling on your chest. This hinders breathing. Some people live through multiple episodes. The primary difference is that angina can be a precursor to a more destructive heart attack.

What is angina and is there anything you can do to prevent or treat it? Here’s what my research indicates.

Common Symptoms of Heart Attack and Angina
  • Chest pain/burning
  • Chest pressure, tightness, or squeezing
  • Indigestion/nausea
  • Light-headedness/weakness
  • Neck, jaw, throat, back pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating

Types of Angina

Angina is momentary chest pain or pressure that indicates arteries supplying blood and oxygen to your heart are narrowed or blocked. [3] Angina pectoris, sometimes called ischemic chest pain, is a symptom of heart disease.

The most common type is stable angina brought on by stress or physical exertion. After a few minutes, it goes away. Since it can signal a heart attack, you should inform your physician. [4]

Other types include unstable angina, recurring while at rest, or when not very active. It can be an indication of an impending heart attack. With microvascular angina, you have chest pain without coronary artery blockage lasting ≥10 minutes. Prinzmetal’s angina is a rare narrowing of heart arteries that can occur when sleeping. In each case, you should contact a doctor right away. [4]

Treatment depends on whether there is damage to your heart. For mild angina, medicine, and lifestyle changes can often improve blood flow better and control symptoms.

Your cardiology doctor might prescribe medicines like nitrates, calcium channel blockers, blood thinners, or statins. Nitrates relax and widen blood vessels. Beta-blockers slow your heartbeat. Blood thinners prevent blood clots. Statins lower your cholesterol levels. [4]


It has been over 15 years since my mysterious episode. Reducing stress, eating healthy, and exercising (not as often as I should) helps. Take a break from the computer and relax in your favorite chair each day.

If you ever experience chest pain or are standing around watching someone else with it, call emergency services. Then follow up with a cardiology evaluation.

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