What is a panic attack vs. heart attack?

A panic attack is an intense wave of fear accompanied by symptoms like sweating, shaking, dizziness and others. A heart attack is a blockage in blood flow to the heart. The symptoms of a heart attack and panic attack are similar, but they have different outcomes.
A panic attack is an intense wave of fear accompanied by symptoms like sweating, shaking, dizziness and others. A heart attack is a blockage in blood flow to the heart. The symptoms of a heart attack and panic attack are similar, but they have different outcomes.

When you feel your heart racing and start having pain in your chest, you may worry that you are having a heart attack. There are a lot of similarities in the way the body reacts when it comes to a panic attack vs. heart attack. However, the causes and outcomes of each condition are quite different.

It’s common for people to confuse the symptoms of a panic attack with those of a heart attack. That’s why it’s important to understand the distinctions so you can receive the correct care. 

What is a panic attack?

People having a panic attack often experience intense waves of fear washing over them. They may feel like they are trapped and unable to move. There is often no warning or obvious trigger when a panic attack strikes. It’s possible for a panic attack to occur whether you are awake or asleep. Panic attacks typically last anywhere from five to 30 minutes, usually peaking at 10 minutes.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack, also referred to as a myocardial infarction, happens when a blockage stops blood from flowing to the heart, which keeps the heart from getting enough oxygen. As more time passes without that essential element, the heart muscle starts to die, which can eventually lead to death. 

What are the symptoms and signs of a panic attack vs. heart attack?

Because there are some similarities in the symptoms of a panic attack vs. heart attack, people often get them confused. Seek treatment from a medical professional if you suspect that your symptoms might be caused by a heart attack, even if it turns out to be a panic attack.

Symptoms of a panic attack

Some of the most common symptoms of a panic attack include:

The symptoms usually peak within 10 minutes of the onset of the panic attack. Most people recover without showing any complications. However, people who develop frequent panic attacks may remain in a constant state of worry about having another one. These are symptoms of panic disorder.

Symptoms of a heart attack

Heart attacks do not strike everyone in the same way. They can come on with intensity or start gradually. It’s essential that you learn to understand what’s happening so that you quickly get proper treatment. People who are having a heart attack often show signs like:   

  • Feeling like something is squeezing your chest
  • Uncomfortable chest pressure
  • Chest fullness
  • Chest pain
  • Pain in places like your neck, arms, back, stomach, or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Lightheadedness  

People can have different experiences when having a heart attack. Women are more likely to have symptoms like shortness of breath, jaw pain, and nausea. That may lead to a misdiagnosis of their condition. Also, women may mistake their heart attack symptoms for the flu. acid reflux, or signs of aging


 

What are the causes of a panic attack vs. heart attack?

People who find themselves having constant panic attacks may have a panic disorder. While there is no consensus on what causes a panic attack, they can be brought on by certain factors, including:

Various factors can increase your risk of having a heart attack, like: 

How to diagnose a panic attack vs. heart attack

To diagnose, doctors typically conduct a physical exam that includes checking your blood pressure, listening to your heart, and discussing your symptoms. They will want to confirm whether you are having a panic attack or a heart attack. They may also request additional blood tests.

When it comes to a potential heart attack, medical professionals typically have patients undergo various tests. To assess whether it’s truly a heart attack, doctors see if your episode caused heart damage and look for signs of coronary artery disease. Some of the tests you may need include: 

Your doctors will use your test results to determine a diagnosis and the next steps for treatment and prevention.

Treatments for a panic attack vs. heart attack

If your panic attacks may be the result of a panic disorder, your doctor may recommend that you start attending some form of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or exposure therapy. Also, they may recommend that you start taking medication to manage your anxiety and panic symptoms. These include antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.

For heart attacks, doctors may inject a clot-dissolving agent to restore blood flow to the affected coronary artery. If that doesn’t work, they may resort to performing surgery to increase blood flow to your heart. 

SLIDESHOW

Heart Disease: Causes of a Heart Attack See Slideshow

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 2/26/2021
References
SOURCES:

Center for Disease Control: "Heart Attack."

HelpGuide.org: "Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder."

Heart.org: "Warning Signs of a Heart Attack."

Heart.org: "Heart Attack Symptoms in Women."

Heart.org: "Diagnosing a Heart Attack."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Heart Attack."