Dr. Travis Stork from the hit TV show The Doctors explains the difference between angina and a heart attack.

Keeping your heart healthy is crucial. Anyone experiencing chest pain should consult his or her doctor as soon as possible. Nearly 750,000 Americans have a heart attack every year. Paying attention to chest pain can be the difference between life and death.

Angina is different from a “heart attack,” also called a myocardial infarction or “MI.” Angina is a term used to describe pain or discomfort that occurs when the blood supply to the heart is not as good as it should be. Angina often occurs when plaque builds up in the coronary arteries. For example, many patients with angina will say their symptoms are worse when they walk up a flight of stairs because there is an increased need for oxygen under stress.

A heart attack, on the other hand, is a condition where the blood flow to certain heart muscle cells is completely blocked. If not addressed immediately, these heart muscle cells will die. Angina is often a precursor to a heart attack; so patients who detect angina early may have the opportunity to avoid a future heart attack by addressing it correctly.

Although the primary symptom of angina is chest discomfort, many symptoms beyond chest discomfort can occur during a heart attack. These symptoms may include shortness of breath, pain in the arm or jaw, nausea, sweats, weakness and even upper abdominal pain. All of these symptoms can be a warning sign of diminished blood flow to the heart, but it takes medical testing to know for sure. Even the most skilled and experienced doctors cannot always differentiate between angina and a heart attack without proper testing. If any of these symptoms occur, it is crucial to head straight to the emergency room. My rule of thumb: if you’re worried, get it checked out by a professional.

Patients who have had a heart attack or have a history of angina must consult with their individual doctors before beginning a workout regimen. The easiest activity that many people can engage in is simply walking. Walking doesn’t cost a penny. Anyone with heart disease who starts a walking regimen — 30 minutes a day, five times a week — can greatly reduce the risk of further complications. It is amazing how quickly people can turn the corner with simple physical movement and eating foods that lower cholesterol levels.

Everyone should feel empowered to be the CEO of their own health. The health care system can be a scary entity, but one of the most important jobs a person has is staying on top of their own well-being. This includes reducing the risk for heart disease. It is never too late to make a positive change in your health, so why not start today?

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Travis Stork, M.D., is a board-certified emergency room physician and the host of the Emmy Award-winning TV series The Doctors, The New York Times best-selling author of The Doctor’s Diet, and The Doctor’s Diet Cookbook. Visit thedoctorstv.com for more information