How Can Anxiety Cause Chest Pain
Both panic attacks and anxiety attacks can cause chest pain. These attacks are similar, although an anxiety attack can be less intense.
Anxiety attacks usually relate to a specific trigger in someones life, whereas a panic attack can happen without an obvious trigger.
In both cases, the symptoms occur due to stress hormones that trigger a persons fight-or-flight response. This also causes other symptoms, such as difficulty breathing.
People who have frequent anxiety or panic attacks may have an anxiety disorder. There are different types of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.
To diagnose these conditions, a doctor needs to check that a persons symptoms match those outlined in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition.
Researchers do not know exactly what causes anxiety disorders, but it is likely a combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors.
Chest pain due to anxiety or panic attacks can usually feel like a sharp, stabbing sensation that starts suddenly, even if a person is inactive. However, they may be feeling stressed or anxious already before the chest pain begins.
Common accompanying symptoms of an anxiety or panic attack include:
805,000 people in the U.S. every year, only 24% of individuals with chest pain who come in to see a doctor receive a heart problem diagnosis.
Nevertheless, having chest pain can be alarming, as it is still likely it could be due to a heart attack.
While Waiting For The Ambulance
Stop any activity and rest while waiting for an ambulance. Dont try to drive yourself to hospital. Loosen any tight clothing, such as collar buttons or ties. Avoid breathing in cigarette smoke. Dont have anything to eat or drink.
If you have been prescribed angina medicine, sit or lie down and take a dose of this under your tongue. If this doesnt relieve your symptoms in 5 minutes, try taking 2 more doses at 5-minute intervals.
Chew 300mg aspirin straight away, unless youre allergic or your doctor has told you not to. Do not give aspirin to anyone under 12 years.
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Why Does Anxiety Cause Chest Tightness
When youre faced with stress, fear, or a challenge that causes anxiety, this activates the flight-or-fight response, which ultimately helps the body prepare to face the danger or protect itself from that danger.
Part of the fight-or-flight response involves tensing the muscles, which can cause feelings of stiffness or tightness in different parts of the body.
When your body is subjected to stress, it also produces higher levels of hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol.
Its suggested that during times of panic,¹ you can experience an increased heart rate, which may cause chest tightness however, the conclusions from research arent clear.
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Why Does Anxiety Cause Chest Pain
Anxiety is the bodys response to a real or perceived stressor, and anxiety and panic attacks can produce a number of physical symptoms in addition to mental turmoil.
When youre anxious, your body enters whats typically referred to as a fight or flight state, preparing to help you battle against something that could hurt you.
Your body does this in many ways, including increasing your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, and by triggering the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline.
Many of these fight or flight responses can cause chest pain. Common causes for chest pain include:
- Muscle tension: This is typically a result of stress and can manifest itself as tightness in the muscles in the chest.
- Increased heart rate: This can lead to feelings of pounding in the chest, heart palpitations, and coronary artery spasms.
- Hyperventilation: This is a result of shortness of breath, and can cause changes to the level of carbon dioxide in the blood.
- Increased blood pressure: This can increase oxygen demand in the heart and put a strain on the smaller blood vessels due to increased blood flow.
Quick Read Angina Or Anxiety
- Many people go to the emergency room with chest pain that feels like a heart attack but is instead anxiety.
- Its unlikely that a young person without risk factors is having a heart attack, but you should still go to the emergency room if you experience symptoms.
Picture this: Your heart is racing. It feels like its not just beating in your chest but in your throat and neck. Its beating so hard that its impossible to think of anything else.
You feel short of breath, but short of breath doesnt quite describe it. Its more like youre smothering or choking. And when you think about it, swallowing is difficult, too.
On top of this, you are sweating and shaking uncontrollably. And you are dizzy to the point of needing to throw up.
Your chest gets tighter and tighter. You feel a sense of impending doom. Youre worried that you may be having a heart attack. What else could it be?
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How To Manage Heart Attack And Anxiety
When you notice any of the warning signs of heart attack or anxiety, you need to first call for the emergency response team. Additionally, in an event of a heart attack begin CPR if the patient is unconscious. If you are not trained on CPR, then the chest compression will do.
Taking deep breaths for five minutes and relaxing techniques can help relax you when you have an anxiety attack. However, if the symptoms are still present, its better to seek emergency care to rule out heart attack episode.
Why Does Anxiety Give You Chest Pain
Anxiety is a stress response, and your body reacts to stress in different ways. Some sensations are purely physical, like having shortness of breath, heart palpitations, sweating, or your body tensing up.
You may have heard of the fight-or-flight stress response where your body gears up to fight back or run away from the stressor. If you have a lot of stress in your life, your body carries a lot more muscle tension. Some people experience this muscle tension in their chests. If youre stressed out, this may raise your heart rate, and you can feel your heart pounding louder and stronger. These reactions together may make you experience anxiety chest pain .
Other responses that can cause anxiety chest pain include breathing too rapidly and shallowly .
Hyperventilating changes the level of carbon dioxide in the blood, causing dizziness, numbness and tingling in your extremities, and chest pain. Panic attacks can also increase the heart rate, which can cause coronary artery spasms, increased blood pressure , and increased oxygen needsall of which can cause chest pain .
People with coronary artery disease or other heart problems may also suffer from anxiety. An anxiety attack or panic attack can exacerbate their heart issues .
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Is It A Heart Attack Or Anxiety
It makes sense to respond to pain especially when you dont know its source with anxiety or worry. But if that pain is caused by anxiety in the first place, your natural response can spiral into an anxiety attack.
One reason you might respond to chest pain with anxiety is if you think, What if Im having a heart attack?
Knowing the difference between anxiety symptoms and heart attack symptoms can help you feel more at ease when having chest pain. And chances are, naming this pain could help you reduce it quickly.
When youre in the midst of a high-anxiety moment, your body is more likely to be experiencing:
- more oxygen to the heart
- heart palpitations
Is My Chest Pain Being Caused By Anxiety Or A Heart Attack
Symptoms like chest tightness and pain, shortness of breath, and rapid heartbeat can be common symptoms of anxiety, but these symptoms also overlap with indicators of something more serious: a heart attack.
So, how can you tell the difference, and how will you know if you actually need to call your doctor?
A heart attack occurs when part of your heart is not receiving enough blood, typically because an artery has become blocked.
Common symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Chest pressure and pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sense of impending doom
Evidently, many of these symptoms are also common symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks, but there are some main differences:
- Pain location: If you are experiencing anxiety or a panic attack, your chest pain will typically stay in that location. With a heart attack, however, the pain can radiate to other areas of the body, like your arms, shoulders, and back.
- What your chest pain feels like: If you are experiencing anxiety or a panic attack, the chest pain will often feel sharp and stabbing, or the discomfort may be difficult to describe. With a heart attack, the pain tends to be a squeezing feeling, feeling like there is a weight on your chest, an aching or burning sensation, and chest pressure.
Anxiety is a treatable problem, and research shows that a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication management can help reduce anxiety symptoms and help people feel better long-term.
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Treatment Studies In Patients With Pd And Chest Pain
These interventions are likely to be beneficial for patients experiencing chest pain as a part of their panic attacks, although such treatments are not well studied in this specific population. Two preliminary studies of benzodiazepines in patients with PD and chest pain have shown promise. In an open-label, flexible-dose trial, Beitman and associates110 administered alprazolam for 8 weeks to 10 cardiology patients with chest pain, normal coronary arteries, and PD. Alprazolam decreased the rate of both chest pain and panic attacks significantly in this population, as 7 of 8 participants who completed the trial had 50% or greater reduction in their panic attack frequency. The patients also had significant improvements on measures of anxiety and depression as well as in Clinical Global Impressions scale scores, suggesting that this intervention not only reduced symptoms but also improved quality of life.
What Causes Chest Tightness
There is no exact explanation of what causes chest tightness in anxiety sufferers. Nevertheless, it is advised to seek a primary care provider immediately for any sudden or worsening chest pain in order to rule out possible cardiac disease.
Do not by any means feel as if you are bothering anyone when you seek help for chest pain. Once serious health conditions are ruled out, you can begin to tackle your anxiety-induced chest pain.
Rest assured that anxiety can commonly cause chest tightness and chest pain for a variety of reasons. These include:
Chest tightness most often occurs right before or during an anxiety attack. It may also present spontaneously with no anxiety at all in what is known as a limited-symptom panic attack.
Rest assured that chest discomfort caused by anxiety is usually harmless.
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What Causes Chest Pains In Anxiety
During anxiety moments, the brain produces chemicals that influence the fight-or-flight response to the stimuli. This response is both physical and psychological changes.
The fight-or-flight response includes physical responses like tense muscles, an increase in heart rate, and sweating among others. The pain in the chest from anxiety may be caused by mechanisms in either the cardiac system or not related to the cardiac system.
The body in people without chronic anxiety can recuperate fully within 30 minutes. However, in people with anxiety disorders, full recuperation does not take place.
The lack of recuperation makes the muscles hypersensitive leading to muscle tension. When the chest muscles are consistently tense, they become painful.
In addition to the chest muscle tension, the heart rate increases during anxiety. With anxiety disorders, the heart rate may become stronger. In addition, there are coronary artery spasms associated with increased anxiety, more resistance of small blood vessels in the heart, blood pressure increases and because the heart is pumping faster there is an increase in oxygen demand.
Other non-cardiac mechanisms that can cause chest pain in anxiety include low carbon dioxide levels in the blood due to hyperventilation and irregular contractions in the esophagus. Low carbon dioxide levels in the body results in the following symptoms:
Combining the cardiac and non-cardiac mechanisms may cause unfamiliar pain in the chest.
What Is The Difference Between Anxiety Chest Pain And Heart Attack
Anxiety-induced chest pain can be easily confused with a heart attack and vice versa because of similar symptoms. Both the conditions have similar symptoms like chest pain, sweating, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, increased blood pressure, etc. Therefore, in case of chest pain, one must immediately contact a doctor or call the emergency helpline because the reason could be a severe cardiac issue, and prompt treatment can save someones life.
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How You Can Tell If You Are Suffering From Anxiety
The easiest way to determine if you are suffering from anxiety-induced chest tightness is by ruling out any cardiac or lung-related disease. Only a physician can rule these out completely.
A few signs can be helpful in determining if your chest tightness is cardiac-related. This is by no means an all-inclusive list. So, when in doubt, please visit your primary care physician. Generally, the following is more likely to be true of anxiety-related chest tightness and/or pressure:
- It is less likely to radiate towards the back, arms, or shoulders.
- It is more likely to occur with other anxiety symptoms.
- It tends to last for less than 10 minutes.
Again, having chest pain that abides by these suggestions does not rule out any cardiac or pulmonary causes. Also, women, diabetics, and the elderly often present with chest pain that is atypical of traditional cardiac chest tightness. So, if you belong to one of these groups and have new-onset chest pressure and/or tightness, it is best to see a physician first.
Anxiety attacks have a peak time, and that tends to be when the chest pressure is at its worst. Cardiac chest pressure, on the other hand, is more likely to last longer than 15 minutes, radiate, not be relieved with the resolution of anxiety, and be associated with shortness of breath etc.
Can Anxiety Cause Chest Tightness
Anxiety can cause chest tightness. Chest tightness is one of the common symptoms of anxiety which may be accompanied by breathing rapidly and difficulty in breathing. The tightness is experienced as a sharp, shooting, or stabbing pain in the chest. The chest tightness feeling may be persistent, dull aching, and thus is felt as tightness, tension, or pressure in your chest when you are having a panic attack or anxiety from any of the disorders.
The heavy or tight feeling in the chest caused by anxiety can be constant or short-lived depending on how frequently you experience anxiety symptoms. You may however need to differentiate between anxiety tightness or chest pain from chest pain that you get from a heart attack as described below.
You should always consult your doctor if you get chest pain with the following signs:
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Recognition Of Panic Disorder In Patients With Chest Pain
Panic disorder often goes undiagnosed. In one study, none of the 26% of patients with panic disorder who presented to the emergency department with chest pain were correctly diagnosed.18 A similar study in a family practice setting found that only 4 of 26 patients with panic attacks were accurately identified, while 2 were diagnosed with CAD. However, twelve were recognized as having chest pain due to anxiety or stress.9 Because primary care physicians have been shown to be capable of differentiating between panic disorder and cardiac disease,80 failure to recognize panic disorder in patients seeking care for chest pain may be due to the variability of chest pain17,81 or its clustering with other symptoms during panic attacks.81,82 Are there patterns in the chest pain seen in patients with panic disorder that could facilitate recognition?
Characteristics of chest pain associated with panic disorder.
Frightening Symptoms Of Anxiety
Chest tightness is an anxiety symptom that often causes a severe amount of distress. That is because chest tightness has a negative connotation that links it to severe health conditions. This can be very daunting for individuals who do not know much about the physical effects of stress and anxiety in their lives.
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How To Treat Anxiety Chest Pain
Fortunately, if you have pain in your chest from anxiety, there are a number of treatment options you can try. First and foremost, in-person or online therapy can be extremely helpful in learning how to manage your anxiety and alleviate your symptoms.
A therapist can use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help you restructure the thought processes that may be leading to your anxiety and contributing to your chest pain. Many people find this route of treatment preferable if theyre hoping to avoid medication.
However, you should know that anxiety medicationis another effective form of treatment for many people. However, therapy and medication arent the only two ways you can handle chest tightness anxiety.
You can also try:
Anxiety disorder symptoms can be challenging enough, even without chest pain. Additionally, t can become so much worse when you have the fear that chest pain often brings on. To eliminate the possibility that something more is going on, you should see a doctor or healthcare provider to be evaluated any time you have chest tightness anxiety, heart palpitations, or any other type of chest pain. This can rule out any other conditions if youre still unsure.
If you need help managing your anxiety, reach out to Talkspace today. Our licensed therapists are specialized in anxiety in teens and adults so you can get the treatment you need.