Heart Health - Panic Attacks vs. Heart Attacks

Panic Attacks and Heart Attacks Have Similar Symptoms

Heart attacks and panic attacks have similar symptoms, making a diagnosis difficult for a medical professional examining and testing a patient in an emergency room. Because physicians are accustomed to seeing males over age 50 having heart attacks, the automatic assumption for females and younger individuals is that their symptoms are caused by a panic attack. The confusing symptoms of a panic attack have led individuals to think they are having a heart attack, and the result is calling paramedics for medical assistance. Approximately 40 percent of individuals with a panic disorder learn about this condition after they sought medical help for chest pain that they thought was atrial fibrillation.

Heart Attack Symptoms Progress in Severity

Experts have learned that panic attacks can occur several times a day or a few times a year, depending on the patient’s emotional distress and tendency to worry. A panic attack is incredibly frightening for an individual with a chronic panic disorder because there is no way of knowing when or where another attack will occur. In addition, individuals feel embarrassed after experiencing a panic attack in a public place such as at work or while driving a vehicle and behaving inappropriately. An important difference between a panic attack and a heart attack is that a panic attack’s symptoms usually last a maximum of 10 minutes while heart attack symptoms last longer and progress in severity.

Symptoms of Heart Attacks vs. Symptoms of Panic Attacks

Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Profuse perspiration
  • Intense shaking
  • Feeling faint or dizzy

Alternatively, the symptoms of a heart attack are:

  • Chest pain after strenuous physical activity
  • Pain that travels from the chest to the limbs, jaw or back
  • A feeling of pressure in the chest that increases
  • Discomfort on the left side of the chest
  • No chest discomfort but pain in other regions

Understanding if it is a Heart Attack or Panic Attack

An important way for someone to determine if they are having a heart attack rather than a panic attack is by noticing their heartbeat. An individual having a panic attack will describe a loud heartbeat or pounding noise in their ears while someone having a heart attack will not hear their heart beating. During a medical examination in an emergency room, a patient having a heart attack or atrial fibrillation will usually have a drop in blood pressure, experience light-headedness or describe feeling tired. When considering whether symptoms are from a heart attack or panic attack, it is also essential to think about other things that lead to heartbeat palpitations such as drinking too much caffeine, experiencing dehydration or taking medication.


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