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

Chest Pain & Heart Attack

Aug 23, 2017


Chest pains are scary, but just because you are having chest pains does not necessarily mean they are life threatening. If you have ever asked yourself if the symptoms you are experiencing signal a heart attack or a panic attack, there are some distinct differences in the two you will want to make yourself aware of, for your future peace of mind and to know when you need to see a doctor or go to the emergency room.

Is It a Heart Attack or Panic Attack?

Both may cause you to experience symptoms such as:

Because both heart attack and panic attack symptoms can happen suddenly and without warning, and because the symptoms are so similar, it comes as no surprise that many anxious people end up in the emergency room of their local hospital due to a concern about having a heart attack, when what they are actually experiencing is a panic attack.

What Is the Difference Between an Anxiety Attack and a Panic Attack?

When it comes to the differences between a heart attack and a panic attack, you may first need to know the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack. Although the two terms are used interchangeably, there are differences here, also.

Simply stated, the differences between a panic attack and an anxiety attack are best described in terms of the intensity of the symptoms and length of time the main symptoms last.

Anxiety Attacks: An anxiety attack generally intensifies over a period of time and is directly related to a pattern of excessive worry about some potential or perceived “danger.” Anxiety attacks tend to be very short lived, and when the stressor goes away, so does the anxiety attack. Symptoms are generally much less intense during an anxiety attack than a panic attack.

Panic Attacks: When dealing with a panic attack, symptoms are sudden and extremely intense, appearing to arise without a directly associated cause, and without any external or internal cues. Panic attacks are unprovoked and unpredictable, and can take place even when not in a fearful situation, and without harboring fearful thoughts. Symptoms usually peak within 10 minutes and then subside.

The Difference Between Panic Attacks and Heart Attacks

If you are having a hard time telling the difference between the symptoms associated with an anxiety attack, panic attack, and a heart attack, here are some ways to tell the difference:

1. Anxiety attacks produce more symptoms than just those which are similar to a heart attack, such as body-wide sensations.

2. With a heart attack, it is not unusual for a person to lose consciousness. Anxiety attacks usually do not cause the sufferer to pass out.

3. Hyperventilation can occur with either condition, but should go away if you are able to calm down and relax your breathing. Heart attack symptoms generally do not subside quickly and easily, and as the cause is physical, calming thoughts down may reduce some of the symptoms of a heart attack but will not eliminate all of them.

Diagnosing Panic Attacks and Heart Attacks

Most competent doctors and medical professionals can tell the difference between a panic attack, anxiety attack, and a heart attack quite easily, but medical tests are a more definite method of determining whether you are dealing with an anxiety or panic disorder, or a compromised heart muscle. Seek the advice of your physician to determine the best course of action for your situation.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Although treatment including therapy and medication is available for all of these conditions, do not be afraid of requesting tests to determine which condition you are dealing with. With these three medical challenges, the old adage “Better safe than sorry” definitely applies. Complete Care centers offer a full range of treatment options to provide you with essential medical care for any or all of these conditions. Check out our location page for a center near you.