I have Chest Pain: Is It a Heart Attack or Anxiety?


Chest pain is alarming, and most times we tend to relate it with a heart-related problem, and appropriately so considering chest pain is a primary symptom of heart attacks. However, cardiac conditions are not the only cause of chest pain, you can still experience it when you have an anxiety attack. Although these two incidents have similar symptoms, there are different and here is how you can tell the difference.

How a Heart Attack and Anxiety Occurs?

A heart attack occurs when the blood supply has been cut short or blocked and the heart can’t get enough oxygen. If the blood flow is not restored, that section of the heart will begin to die. Plaque buildup in the arteries and blood vessels can cause the blockage.

A heart attack is a medical emergency so go to the nearest emergency room when you notice any of the warning signs.

Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, occurs when you have a fear that something bad is going to happen. Anxiety is a non-medical situation, but it can cause muscle tension.

Anxiety attacks have been linked to stress. The irony is, although it can’t cause a heart attack, stress plays a role in coronary artery disease development. Plus, people with heart attacks may also experience anxiety.

Take note; anxiety and panic attacks are different, though they are usually used interchangeably. In most cases, anxiety relates to a specific event or situation. Panic attack, on the other hand, can happen without a trigger. Furthermore, panic attacks are severe than anxiety symptoms.

How Can You Tell the Difference?

Heart attack symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Tightness or aching sensation in your arm that spreads to the jaw, neck, and back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting

Anxiety attack symptoms include:

  • Sharp pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Racing heart
  • Shaking and sweating

Both of these conditions can have at least two overlapping symptoms, and knowing how the symptoms occur can be a lifesaver.

1. The pain severity 
For a panic attack, the chest pain is sharp and localized to the center of the chest. During a heart attack, you will feel pressure and a squeezing sensation starting from the center of the heart spreading to the arm, jaw, and shoulder blades.

2. Duration of the symptoms
Although for both heart attack and anxiety the symptoms may appear suddenly, the duration can tell you which is which.

Most anxiety attacks last for 20 to 30 minutes, while for heart attacks the symptoms can last longer and worsen with time.

When to Call the Doctor?

Since most of the heart attack and anxiety symptoms overlap, it is important to seek urgent care near you, and let the doctor make a diagnosis. However, call for emergency support when you develop any of the following:

  • Sudden and severe chest pain or pressure that lasts for more than three minutes
  • Chest pain that spreads to the arm (left) or into the jaw.

How to Manage Heart Attack and Anxiety?

When you notice any of the warning signs of heart attack or anxiety, you need to first call for the emergency response team. Additionally, in an event of a heart attack begin CPR if the patient is unconscious. If you are not trained on CPR, then the chest compression will do.

Taking deep breaths for five minutes and relaxing techniques can help relax you when you have an anxiety attack. However, if the symptoms are still present, it’s better to seek emergency care to rule out heart attack episode.

Take Away

The severity of the symptoms will vary depending on whether you have experienced a heart attack or panic attack. There’s no specific treatment for panic attacks. However, the doctor can recommend various remedies such as medication, counseling, and, lifestyle modifications.

Although panic attacks can disrupt your lifestyle, they are not life-threatening, but you should still seek treatment. Heart attacks, on the other hand, are serious and need urgent treatment. Therefore, contact Express ER 24-hour emergency room for assistance and treatment.

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