Learn what steps you should take if you are experiencing chest pain

Is This an Anxiety Attack or Heart Attack? How to Know

Anxiety and chest pain are often related, which can result in increased discomfort and fear. In fact, it may be unclear whether you’re having an anxiety attack or heart attack, so knowing the difference might save your life. Here’s how to tell the two apart.

Are You Having an Anxiety Attack or a Heart Attack?

People who suffer from panic attacks often say their acute anxiety feels like a heart attack, as many of the symptoms can seem the same. Both conditions can be accompanied by shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, sweating, a pounding heartbeat, dizziness, and even physical weakness or temporary paralysis.

Perhaps most powerful, though, is the sense of dread that overshadows both events. The fear itself can lead to an increase in these symptoms.

To learn more about living a heart-healthy lifestyle and what to do when anxiety feels like a heart attack, contact UPMC’s Heart and Vascular Institute today.

Know the Difference Between Anxiety and Heart Attack

If you’re experiencing symptoms, call 911 immediately. While there are ways to determine the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack, a medical diagnosis is the only way to be sure. Pay special attention to an episode that includes:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Burning esophageal discomfort resembling indigestion
  • Shooting or aching pain that moves down the arm
  • Pain that travels into the jaw area
  • Discomfort between the shoulder blades
  • Vomiting

These physical indicators can more clearly signal a heart attack.

It is especially important to be aware of your own heart attack risk factors. For example, if you’re a smoker with a family history of heart disease and have high blood pressure, you’re more likely to experience a heart attack.

If, on the other hand, you experience chronic stress, suffered a recent traumatic event, or have trouble coping with life’s ups and downs, you may be dealing with anxiety. Symptoms of severe anxiety and panic often resemble a heart attack, which can worsen your distress. When anxiety feels like a heart attack, the panic can feel overwhelming. Thankfully, when stressors diminish, the symptoms usually do, too.

Know the Correlation Between the Two Conditions

According to the American Heart Association), many mental health issues can affect your heart health. When your body is under stress, it produces higher levels of glucose, adrenaline, and cortisol. Repetitive or prolonged distress overworks your adrenal glands, heart, and arteries. Unhealthy coping mechanisms, like smoking cigarettes or eating fatty foods, can contribute to the negative cycle. If left unchecked, an unhealthy mental state becomes another risk factor for heart attack.

Additionally, up to a third of all heart attack survivors experience depression. Anxiety and chest pain can trigger more panic, resulting in a potentially destructive cycle. Healthy mental and physical habits reduce the chances of anxiety and heart attacks.

To learn more about living a heart-healthy lifestyle and what to do when anxiety feels like a heart attack, contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute today.