Panic Attack or Heart Attack

Is Your Heart Attack Actually a Panic Attack? Your heart is racing and you start to feel tightness in your chest. Your palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy – yes, these are rap lyrics by Eminem, but they are referencing a very common occurrence as of late.

Distinguishing the two can be difficult, especially for those who have never experienced either of them. The two kinds of attacks can feel alarmingly similar including shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain/tightness, dizziness, vertigo, numbness, sweating, shaking, and even fainting. Most who have experienced these attacks feel as if they are losing control of their body and think they may be dying.

So what are the symptoms you should be looking out for?

First of all, if you have any doubt – call 911 and get to an emergency room.  The time to read this blog and do your research is when you are not feeling chest pains and when your heart has been cleared.  Let’s look at the symptoms of both a heart attack and a panic attack.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

  • Chest pain that escalates rapidly and reaches a maximum severity after only a few minutes
  • Constant pain, tightness, pressure, fullness, or aching in the chest area
  • Pain or discomfort that travels from the chest to other areas – especially arms, abdomen, back, shoulders, neck, throat, or jaw
  • Pain brought on by exertion
  • Shortness of breath

Symptoms of a Panic Attack 

  • Chest pain that escalates rapidly and reaches a maximum severity after only a few minutes
  • Constant pain, tightness, pressure, fullness, or aching in the chest area
  • Pain or discomfort that travels from the chest to other areas – especially arms, abdomen, back, shoulders, neck, throat, or jaw
  • Pain brought on by exertion
  • Shortness of breath

Ironically similar, right? So what are the actual differences between the two?

The Differences

Panic attacks can either occur spontaneously out of the blue or due to a stressful event. Good news is that although it may not seem like it (and trust me, it won’t), a panic attack poses no immediate medical danger. Panic attacks are a form of anxiety, but unlike other anxiety disorders (which tend to be mental), panic attacks are most well known for their physical symptoms. These physical symptoms can be so strong that they feel nearly identical to a heart attack and even some doctors have a hard time telling the difference. Even more good news, like all anxiety disorders, panic attacks are treatable.

A heart attack, on the other hand, is very dangerous and requires immediate medical attention. If you are having chest pain, discomfort lasting more than several minutes, difficulty breathing, or any other symptom that seems life-threatening, call 9-1-1 and get to an emergency room as soon as you can. The best results occur for those who are treated shortly after their symptoms begin.

As the two “attacks” are so similar in symptoms – as we saw above – doctors often use a process of elimination to figure out what a person has. To help you in your journey, consider talking to one of our therapists to see if you possibly have anxiety. And if you are worried about your heart, plan an appointment with your practitioner to discuss your risk factors for heart disease.

For those of you too worried to wait, take a free 7-minute anxiety test here.

Is it time to talk to a therapist?

As I keep mentioning, these two experiences are very hard to differentiate, especially at the moment. Each can lead to a downward spiral mentality and can lead to “worst case scenario” thinking. For those with anxiety or worrisome thinking, panic attacks often lead to the fear that the person suffering is actually having a heart attack. The only true way to know if your heart is healthy or problematic is by talking to your doctor, as he/she is trained to diagnose heart health issues.

For those of you that have been diagnosed with panic or anxiety disorder and are fearful of a heart attack, please get a thorough physical to determine your heart health as soon as possible. This will make you aware of your own heart health and help you cope with fears relating to health. From there we can work together to help you cope with your anxiety.

Cristina Panccione and Associates Counseling Is Here For You

Health can be a scary topic to think about, especially as we get older. This is why it’s important to get your yearly physical and be open with your doctor about your concerns. Once you have determined the status of your heart, contact us today so we can face your anxiety together. Cristina Panaccione and Associates Counseling has two locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how we can help you today!

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