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How to Tell the Difference Between a Heart Attack and a Panic Attack?

DM - Cardiology, MD - General Medicine, MBBS
Super Speciality, Pune  •  23 years experience
How to Tell the Difference Between a Heart Attack and a Panic Attack?

You feel your heart begin to beat wildly in your chest as you break into a cold sweat and have trouble catching your breath; is this a heart attack or panic attack? Your first thought is that it's a heart attack since you have an impending feeling of doom which you may even have felt before your attack began. This makes your heart beat even faster and you become so overwhelmed that the feeling gets even worse until you begin to feel light-headed or maybe even pass out. This is a panic attack.

When you suffer from anxiety, the slightest thing can trigger a panic attack and some can be so intense that you can't imagine it being anything other than looming death. It's very common for those having an anxiety attack to mistake it for a heart attack and this fear is enough to just take over and really wreak havoc on your heart rate, but no matter how fast your heart beats or how panicked you feel; you are not having a heart attack and this episode will not kill you.

One thing that will prove helpful in dealing with this is learning the differences between the two:

Signs of a Heart Attack:

  1. Pressure in the Chest (described as feeling like there is an elephant sitting on your chest).

  2. Chest pain - note that this is not always present.

  3. Sweating.

  4. Shortness of breath.

  5. Pain in the right arm.

  6. Pain in the back or shoulder blades for women.

  7. Nausea or vomiting.

Panic attack symptoms include:

  1. Increased heart rate.

  2. Sharp or stabbing chest pain that lasts only 5 to 10 seconds.

  3. Pain that is localized to one small area.

  4. Pain that usually occurs at rest.

  5. Pain that accompanies anxiety.

  6. Pain that is relieved or worsened when you change positions.

  7. Pain that can be reproduced or worsened by pressing over the area of pain.

The bottom line: Be vigilant and get checked out promptly. If you wish to discuss about any specific problem, you can ask a free question.

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