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Whenever we exercise or experience excitement or stress, our heart rate increases as it works to pump more blood through the heart muscle and deliver oxygenated blood through the body. If not enough blood is able to get into the heart, this causes the extreme chest pains known as angina. Although the reduction of blood flow is only temporary during an angina attack, it can be both painful and upsetting, as the symptoms are similar to those of a heart attack.

Heart attacks differ in that they result from more prolonged interruptions of blood to the heart, often through physical blockage of the coronary artery by a dislodged plaque. Plaques are masses of lipids (such as cholesterol) that can gradually accumulate in the arteries and steadily narrow them over time. If a plaque comes loose, a inflammatory cascade is set off which can than completely block the narrowed artery causing myocardial infarction (heart attack) and permanently damage the heart muscle.

This same narrowing of the arteries by lipid build-up is a common cause of angina, so although the symptoms of angina generally pass within minutes, they are potentially a sign of heart disease and should be carefully monitored. Angina attacks themselves do not damage the heart, but may be an indication of declining heart healthiness and risk for a heart attack.

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