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.
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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.
What does a heart attack feel like?
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.
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.
What does anxiety chest pain feel like?
If, on the other hand, you experience chronic stress, suffered a recent traumatic event, or are having 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. Luckily, when stressors go away, the symptoms usually do, too.
The effects of anxiety are different for everyone, and our response to anxiety can be situational. Here are some signs to look out for if you are experiencing anxiety chest pain symptoms:
- Persistent dull aching.
- Sharp, shooting, or stabbing pain.
- Tightness, tension, or pressure.
- Twitching spasms.
- Numbness in certain areas.
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, such as smoking cigarettes or eating fatty foods, can contribute to the negative cycle. If left unchecked, an unhealthy mental state can become 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.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.