How To Tell The Difference Between Anxiety Chest Pain And Cardiac Chest Pain
Theres no guaranteed method of knowing whether or not chest pain is caused by anxiety or by a heart problem. But generally the two differ in their overall experience:
Anxiety Chest Pain
- Is usually more localized to a specific area.
- Closer to the middle of the chest, although not necessarily.
Cardiac Chest Pain
- Tends to radiate all around the shoulder and possibly the jaw.
- Tends to be a duller pain, like the heart is being crushed.
- Lasts longer than 10 minutes or more.
There are a lot of similarities between the two. Both may have lightheadedness or dizziness and feel like the heart is being squeezed. Both can make it harder to breathe . Its not easy to tell the difference, but the differences are there. Furthermore, once you identify what anxiety chest pain feels like for you, in the moment, you may feel more reassured about what your symptoms are indicating .
Your Next Steps To Prevent Anxiety Over Your Cardiovascular Health
Even though it is extremely likely that your issues are related to anxiety, it’s always important to make sure that you speak with your doctor. Your heart is never something you should leave to chance.
But two things should be noted:
- Once your doctor tells you your heart is fine, you need to accept it.
- Anxiety is going to make it almost impossible for you to accept it.
It would be great if seeing a doctor was enough, but the truth is that almost no one with anxiety finds it easy to accept a “healthy” diagnosis. Because of the way anxiety causes constant attention to be placed on your cardiovascular system, almost everyone with cardiac fears will continue to have those fears after the doctor’s visit is over. Don’t expect a diagnosis to rule your anxiety out.
The first thing you need to do is practice better breathing. Since hyperventilation causes most of the symptoms, it’s important to start breathing more efficiently. Take slow, controlled breaths, and fight the urge to yawn or expand your chest. The moment you start to feel as though a panic attack is coming on, try the following:
- Breathe in slowly, taking at least 5 seconds.
- Hold for two seconds.
- Breathe out as though whistling for 7 seconds.
Never rush the air out of your body, and try to give yourself time to regain your carbon dioxide level. Don’t hold your breath for too long though since holding your breath can cause similar symptoms and may exacerbate your anxiety.
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Panic Attack Vs Heart Attack: How To Tell The Difference
Your heart suddenly begins racing. You feel pain in your chest and you are short of breath.
Are you having a heart attack? Or could it be a panic attack?
Any of these symptoms can be extremely frightening, says Patricia Tung, MD, of Arrhythmia Services at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Although they share a number of similarities, the two conditions result from very different disease processes. Panic attacks arise when stress hormones trigger the bodys fight or flight response, often resulting in racing heart, chest pain and shortness of breath.
In the case of a heart attack, a blockage in a coronary artery may result in the same symptoms. Chest pain, rapid heartbeat and breathlessness may result when an insufficient amount of blood reaches the heart muscle, says Tung.
One of the key distinctions between the two is that a heart attack often develops during physical exertion, whereas a panic attack can occur at rest.
A heart attack is more likely to develop when the work load of the heart increases, for example while a person is shoveling snow or running up the stairs, especially in people who do not routinely engage in physical exertion.
Another difference is duration: Panic attacks tend to gradually subside and resolve on their own within about 20 minutes. A heart attack, however, will often continue and may worsen over time.
When Your Heart Skips a Beat
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What Can You Do To Manage Stress In A Healthy Way
Chronic psychological stress is linked to a greater risk of heart attack and stroke. But positive mental health can help lower your risk of these events.
Managing stress is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It may take weeks or months to figure out what types of stress management techniques best help you reign in stress and reverse the physical effects that chronic stress can have on your body.
Consider trying these steps to help manage stress in a healthy way:
Stress And Heart Health
“In a person with a healthy cardiovascular system, this surge shouldn’t be a problem,” says Rami Doukky, MD, a cardiologist at Rush.
However, if there is underlying heart disease, the sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate could contribute to events leading to a heart attack. For example, in people with atherosclerosis, or cholesterol buildup in their arteries, the increase could cause plaque to rupture and block blood flow, which could result in a heart attack.
The surge can also expose people with existing heart disease to the risk of an arrhythmia, which is an irregular heartbeat.
“There is no solid evidence that stress can directly cause a heart attack,” says Doukky. “However, chronic stress the kind of stress that’s due to ongoing situations like a bad relationship or difficult job can lead to risk factors that affect heart health.”
Chronic stress has been linked to overeating , poor sleep habits and tobacco and alcohol use practices that could translate into high blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease as well as diabetes.For older adults, who are already at a higher risk for heart disease because of progressive atherosclerosis associated with aging, stress may increase their chances of developing heart disease, Doukky says.
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What Causes Anxiety Chest Pain
When youre anxious, your body can and often does produce physical reactions like sweating or shortness of breath.
When you become anxious, your brain and body set off an immediate stress response. This includes a physiological change. Your body may tighten up or grow tense.
A stress response can also include a psychological or emotional response. You may become aggressive or upset more easily. These responses are referred to as the fight-or-flight response. When you become stressed or anxious, your body prepares to fight back or run away.
If you experience this fight-or-flight stress reaction infrequently, your body should fully recover within 30 minutes. But if you experience it frequently, your body cant recover as quickly. This can lead to increased muscle tension, and this tension may become painful in your chest.
Likewise, in an even more stressful moment, your heart rate may increase, and the force of your heartbeats can grow stronger. That combined with tight chest muscles can make you feel unusual pain.
If you feel anxious, there are some simple techniques you can try. These techniques may not work every time, but theyre a great starting point when you need help managing your anxiety.
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Anxiety And The Development Of Heart Disease
Its my view and my personal clinical experience that anxiety disorders can play a major role in heart disease, says McCann. I believe that a really careful look at anxiety would reveal the ways it can severely impact heart disease, both as a contributing factor and as an obstacle in recovery.
A natural reaction to a sudden heart attack can be similar to post-traumatic stress disorder:
- Youre likely to be shocked by your near-death experience and extremely hesitant to do the things you used to do.
- You might constantly relive the life-threatening event, and avoid the activity or place associated with the heart attack.
- Recurring anxious thoughts may impede your ability to get regular sleep.
- Your thoughts about what lies ahead may be extremely negative and cause a drastically foreshortened outlook of the future.
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Are There Any Natural Alternatives To Panic Disorder Medication
Medications arent the only option for treating panic disorder. There are several steps you can take to help calm yourself down and lessen the symptoms of a panic attack while its happening.
- Counting slowly to 10
- Talking to someone you trust about whats happening
Cognitive behavior therapy is another non-medication option. CBT is a type of talk therapy where people with panic disorder work with a mental health professional to identify triggers, understand symptoms, and develop responses to panic attacks.
CBT is a first-choice option for treating this condition, and studies show CBT can be used by itself for panic disorder or as an add-on treatment to medications. Discuss this option with your healthcare provider if youre interested.
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Getting A Clear Picture Of Heart Rhythm And Rate
Cardiac health and anxiety are interrelated. Each can affect the other. The best way to get a clear picture of heart rhythm and rate is to monitor the heart for a period of time. This can be done with a heart monitor. A heart monitor is a small device that records heart rhythm day and night or during active symptoms. Capturing heart rhythm over several days or weeks, a doctor can accurately determine which comes first, anxiety or abnormal beats.
Do you have questions about cardiac symptoms? Contact Premier Cardiology Consultants at 516-437-5600 for assistance.
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Anxiety And Heart Disease
The association between anxiety and heart disease has not been as fully studied as the relationship between depression and heart disease.
However, Una D McCann, M.D., director of the Anxiety Disorders Program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, believes the connection is strong.
What Causes Panic Attacks
The physical symptoms of a panic attack are caused by your body going into “fight or flight” mode.
As your body tries to take in more oxygen, your breathing quickens. Your body also releases hormones, such as adrenaline, causing your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up.
Having a panic attack now? Try these tips for coping with panic attacks.
You may also find that breathing exercises help.
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Anxiety In Cardiovascular Patients
Anxiety has shown to be prevalent in patients who havealready been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, especially if they haveexperienced a heart attack. Surviving a heart attack can be a very traumaticevent that can cause anxiety that is similar to PTSD. In some cases, anxiety isalso prevalent in patients who have been diagnosed with cardiovascular diseaseand are at risk for an acute cardiac event. This is a double-edged swordbecause fear of suffering from a stroke or heart failure could have negativeeffects on a patients heart, but could also prompt them to engage in positivehealth-seeking behaviors.
Panic Attack Signs And Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of a panic attack develop abruptly and usually reach their peak within 10 minutes. They rarely last more than an hour, with most ending within 20 to 30 minutes. Panic attacks can happen anywhere and at any time. You may have one while youre in a store shopping, walking down the street, driving in your car, or even sitting on the couch at home.
Panic attack symptoms include:
- Fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy
Is it a heart attack or a panic attack?
Most of the symptoms of a panic attack are physical, and many times these symptoms are so severe that you may think youre having a heart attack. In fact, many people suffering from panic attacks make repeated trips to the doctor or the emergency room in an attempt to get treatment for what they believe is a life-threatening medical problem. While its important to rule out possible medical causes of symptoms such as chest pain, elevated heart rate, or difficulty breathing, its often panic that is overlooked as a potential causenot the other way around.
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What’s Really Going On
It would be disingenuous to say you do not have a heart condition, because there is no way to know until you talk to your doctor, which you should under such citcumstances. But let’s assume that you’re like most people – your doctor is going to tell you that nothing is wrong with your heart.
So then why are these cardiovascular problems occurring? The answer is likely to be hyperventilation.
Hyperventilation is also known as “over-breathing,” and contrary to popular belief, it’s not caused by getting too little air. It’s actually caused by breathing out too much carbon dioxide.
Your body needs the right balance of carbon dioxide to function. When you breathe too quickly , your cells are drained of their carbon dioxide and your entire body is forced to work much harder in order to function. Your blood vessels constrict, your brain gets less oxygen, and your heart has to beat extra fast because your blood is slowing down.
This what causes the vast majority of the symptoms of a panic attack. And what makes it worse is that hyperventilation makes it feel like you’re not getting enough oxygen, even though the reality is that you’ve taken in too much. Because of that feeling, most people continue to hyperventilate even more in order to try to get a “full breath” only to hyperventilate even further and experience a worsening of the symptoms.
When you combine these symptoms with anxiety, you get a constant feeling that your heart is in poor health.
How Anxiety Symptoms Can Affect The Heart
However, research suggests certain symptoms that come withchronic anxiety could have a lasting, negative impact on the cardiovascularsystem by putting extra strain on the heart. Some symptoms of anxiety, likechest pain, even mimic those of cardiovascular disease. Other symptoms include:
- Rapidheart rate Frequent tachycardia, or rapid heart rate, can interfere withnormal heart function and overtime increase the risk of heart attack,especially in patients with cardiovascular disease.
- Increasedblood pressure Stress and anxietycause cortisol levels to spike which increases blood pressure and heartrate. Frequent spikes in blood pressure weaken the heart muscle and couldeventually lead to coronary disease.
- Sleepproblems Sleep helps to lower yourblood pressure when you are sleeping. When anxiety starts to negatively affectyour sleeping patterns, it could have a detrimental effecton your blood pressure and heart health.
People with anxiety often respond to stressors in ways that canbe detrimental to heart health. Self-medicating by smoking, drinking alcohol, or overeating, are allknown risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Forms of anxiety disorder, suchas social anxiety disorder, can also lead to social isolation and loneliness.Many studies have linked both social isolation and lonelinessto poorhealth outcomes and increased risk of heart disease.
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Difference Between Heart Attack And Anxiety Attack
Heart Attack vs Anxiety Attack
Heart is the organ that pumps the blood throughout the body. Heart works continuously from birth to death. Heart also needs oxygen and nutrition supply via blood. The heart is supplied by coronary arteries. When the supply of the blood is stopped or reduced to a critical level, the heart muscle dies. Heart muscle cannot regenerate if the muscle cells are dead. The death of the cardiac muscle due to ischemia is named as heart attack. Myocardial infarction is the medical term used for heart attack. Heart attack causes severe pain. This is an utmost intensity, unbearable pain. Pain and ischemia activates the sympathetic system of the body. This sympathetic system will increase the heart rate, sweating, increase the respiratory rate and palpitations.
Heart attack is a serious condition, which may end up in sudden death. Hypertension, smoking, fatty food, and lack of exercise are the main risk factors for developing heart attack. Heart attack is caused due to the coronary arteries blocked by cholesterol deposition the atheroma plague suddenly breaks and occludes the coronary vessels, or blood may clot with the deposition of cholesterol and obstruct the blood supply. Depending on the degree of occlusion severe pain to sudden death may result.
Anxiety Chest Pain Vs Heart Attack Chest Pain
Chest pain is a concerning symptom, and its usually best to seek emergency medical attention if youre experiencing it. Even if the chest pain cause is anxiety, its better to know than to risk missing valuable time if youre having a heart attack.
People describe chest pain in a number of ways when theyre having a heart attack. Some examples include:
- chest pain that radiates to other parts of your body, such as down your arms or up to your jaw
- chest pain that worsens with exertion
- nausea along with chest pain
- pressure in the chest, as if someone has put something heavy on your chest
- rapid heart rate
- shortness of breath
- squeezing sensation in the chest
An estimated 30 percent of patients who are having a heart attack dont have chest pain, according to 2020 research . Some people report symptoms like back pain and fatigue as part of their heart attack symptoms.
While doctors know there is a connection between anxiety and chest pain, you still shouldnt ignore your symptoms and seek medical attention.
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Symptoms Of Anxiety Vs Cardiac Chest Pain
Its hard, if not impossible, to tell the difference between anxiety-induced chest pain and the pain caused by an underlying heart condition. In addition to your chest pain, both can cause:
- Heart palpitations
- Feeling of dread or being out of control
Everyone experiences slightly different symptoms, whether they have anxiety or a heart problem. For this reason, the following two qualities arent written in stone. However, theyre generally true and may help you determine the cause of your chest pain: