Your chest hurts.
Your breath is getting shorter.
Your heart begins to race.
You’re nauseous, a little light-headed, and now a bit anxious.
You clutch at your chest because it feels like the most natural thing to do.
These are all very common symptoms in two common, yet completely different ailments. So how can you tell if this feeling is because of a panic attack or heart attack?
It’s not always immediately easy to differentiate between the two. They’re both also relatively common. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) over six million Americans experience a panic attack during the course of a year. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that annually, 735,000 Americans suffer from a heart attack.
These numbers suggest that a lot of people are experiencing similar symptoms each year. But how can we know which event is actually causing it?
Panic Attack or Heart Attack: Differences in Pain
We have covered the common similarities in the symptoms of people who have suffered a panic attack or heart attack. Do you know the differences? How do you know if you should try waiting out the attack, or if you should immediately seek a physician?
To differentiate between the symptoms of both conditions is how this pain is being dispersed throughout your body. Both panic attack and heart attack sufferers have described feeling intense chest pain. However, chest pain associated with an actual heart attack is often described as “crushing.” The feeling may radiate into the rest of the chest, arms, back, neck, and even teeth. On the other hand, chest pain during a panic attack tends to feel more localized. It is more limited to a certain area of the chest.
A common way to treat panic attacks is to breathe through it. After five to ten minutes of deep, active breathing to loosen up the tightened chest, the panic attack will slowly start to subside. After five minutes of breathing, if your body has not shown any signs of improvement, then it may be a heart attack. If these symptoms persist over the five minute mark, do not hesitate to call 9-1-1.
Pain isn’t the only way to differentiate whether you are enduring a panic attack or heart attack. In a panic attack, the symptoms are more likely to surprise you with a sudden onset. Symptoms typically only last around ten minutes. Although that short period of time can be extremely intense and terrifying, physically you will likely be fine once you come out of it.
On the other hand, a heart attack may start with minor discomfort. Then it builds up into severe pain over a few minutes. It can last up to a couple of hours, and can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.
If you experience lightheadedness or even lose consciousness, it’s much more likely that what you’re experiencing is a heart attack. A panic attack is unlikely to cause this. Though nausea may also occur in both cases, it’s more common for heart attack sufferers to end up vomiting. A panic attack may also be accompanied by an intense feeling of fear or anxiety.
Another symptom that is more prevalent in panic attacks is hyperventilation. This is not reported as frequently in heart attack sufferers.
When a Heart Attack Causes a Panic Attack
A heart attack can be a very scary event. It’s not unheard of for it to actually cause the person to have a panic attack simultaneously. While a heart attack requires immediate medical attention, one way to address the symptoms of a panic attack is to combat hyperventilation through deep belly breathing.
This method focuses on helping you focus on and slow down your breathing. On each breath, you should fill your lungs with as much air as you can. Then try to time your breaths to about one every five seconds. This technique many people calm down and focus on something other than their anxious thoughts.
It’s true that in a handful of cases, a heart attack can actually lead to a panic attack. This is due to the fear and anxiety that one may feel during the episode. However, a panic attack in itself cannot cause the physiological aspects of a heart attack! So if you know what you’re having is a panic attack, there’s no need to add fuel to the fire by convincing yourself that a heart attack is on the way too. Just keep assessing what kind of pain you feel and where it is, and pay attention to when your symptoms are losing intensity.
Panic Attack or Heart Attack? Don’t Ignore the Symptoms
The lines between a panic attack or heart attack are very thin, but they should not be ignored. If any symptoms persist longer than five minutes, you may be in grave danger. Act as if your life depends on it, because it does.
If you think that you may be having a heart attack — even if you’re not 100% sure — you should immediately call for emergency medical assistance. When it comes to heart attacks, literally every minute counts, so don’t hesitate — just call. It’s much better to end up with a false alarm than to risk permanent disability or death.
- a healthy diet,
- practicing mindfulness,
- and regular medical checkups
— will benefit your body and your heart. It will help you keep your stress and anxiety at a more manageable level.
Some people also choose to complement these proactive lifestyle choices with nutritional supplements. This can help manage personal stress levels. Products like our all-natural herbal supplement, Tranquilene, that combine herbal extracts, vitamins, and more, support your mood, anxiety, and control stress. With the support these types of herbal supplements, you may be able to reduce your likelihood of a panic attack. In turn, making it easier to recognize any dangerous situation that may be a heart attack.
Have you ever been in a situation where you were in the midst of having a panic attack and mistakened it as a heart attack or vice verse?
What were some of the telltale signs that made you realize you were suffering from either a panic attack or heart attack? Let us know in the comments section below!