How Can We Differentiate Panic Attack And Heart Attack?

Every year thousands of people having chest pain, difficulty in breathing, pain or numbness in the left arm, and tingling sensation throughout the body end up in emergency care because they suspect that they are having a heart attack. Generally, these patients are sent home after a few medical tests because the nature of the attack they experienced is not coronary, it is pure panic.

Why Not Recognize Panic Attack And Heart Attack?

It is a pretty common scenario for most first-time panic attack sufferers to immediately think that they are having a heart attack. One of the most notable symptoms of a panic attack is a racing heart that seems to pound out of control.

Panic Attack And Heart Attack

Moreover, if you are not accustomed to the symptoms of a panic attack, a heart attack seems like a possible conclusion to what you are feeling because it is very common to mistake the chest pain that normally accompanies panic attacks for a life-threatening heart attack. 

Panic attack :

A panic attack is usually not life-threatening at all. People do not die from panic attacks. It feels like your heart is going to pop right out of your chest during one of the panic episodes. A heart attack may potentially put you in a life or death situation with possible internal hemorrhage, whereas a panic attack will lead you to pass out and no physical damage is done.

That is because the physical symptoms of a panic attack are triggered by an offset in breathing, usually hyperventilation where your heart is not being strained. It is being thrown into a natural fight-or-flight response. Your mind is the one causing the panic attack, not your heart. So the fear combined with the physical sensation creates a natural sense of urgency.

Heart attack :

A heart attack occurs when the pain is localized in the center of the chest. It feels like the chest is getting crushed as if an elephant is sitting on top of the chest. This kind of pain is often persistent. It may radiate to the left arm, neck, or back and lasts longer than 5 to 10 minutes. Heart attack victims also do not hyperventilate unless the person’s fear of the heart attack triggers a panic attack.

Similarities :

Both the panic attack and the heart attack share some common symptoms. For instance, any tingling experience confined to the left arm and nausea is common during a panic attack as well as a heart attack. The pain comes and goes as wished, and it usually intensifies when breathing in and out. Pressing on the center of the chest can also intensify the pain.

Contrasts :

There are some differences as well. 

  1. A panic attack may cause nausea or gagging, but vomiting is not common at all. There are patients who have anxiety induced vomiting. That is possible. But if you are vomiting continuously during a panic attack, you should definitely seek a doctor. 
  2. If the tingling sensation is present, the entire body usually tingles during a panic attack. In cases of heart attack, the pain usually localizes in the center of the chest.
  3. You may feel a blunt pain in your chest during panic attack, but a heart attack always starts with a sharp pain.
  4. Hyperventilation almost always occurs before or during a panic attack. 
  5. If the location of the pain slowly moves to the center of the chest, the pain is persistent, does not go away within about 10 to 15 minutes or goes away and returns a few minutes later, you should seek medical attention. 

Conclusion :

These symptoms may seem a little vague and they vary sometimes. You will have to use your judgment. If you are in your 20s or your 30s and have these symptoms, it is more likely that you are suffering from a panic attack. You may feel inclined to worry about how these episodes are affecting your heart long-term. Panic attacks do not cause heart disease, although some experts say that they both affect the heart similarly. Using the proper diets and exercises, patients can learn to control and sometimes even completely eliminate panic attacks. On the other hand, if you are suffering from a heart attack then you are in need of thorough medical attention. 

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