It is common to think that you are having a heart attack when in reality what you are experiencing is a panic attack. The reality is that many symptoms overlap, and it is difficult to discard a heart condition without professional help. To help you differentiate between them, in this article, we talk about the differences between panic attacks and heart attacks.
However, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention if you experience symptoms that could indicate a heart attack. It is always safer to err on the side of caution and call emergency services or go to the nearest emergency room for evaluation.
Here we have some differences between panic attacks and heart attacks:
Chest pain or discomfort
- Panic attack: Chest pain during a panic attack is often described as sharp, stabbing, or aching. It is typically located in the centre of the chest and tends to be brief. The pain may come and go and is usually not associated with physical exertion.
- Heart attack: Chest pain during a heart attack is often described as a feeling of pressure, squeezing, or tightness. The pain may radiate to the arm, shoulder, jaw, or back. It tends to be more persistent and intense and may be triggered or worsened by physical activity or emotional stress.
- Panic attack: Panic attacks may involve symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, trembling, dizziness, or a sense of impending doom. However, these symptoms usually subside within a short period, typically less than an hour.
- Heart attack: Along with chest pain, heart attack symptoms may include shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, light-headedness, cold sweat, and pain or discomfort in other parts of the upper body. These symptoms often persist for more than a few minutes and may worsen over time.
Risk factors and medical history
- Panic attack: Panic attacks are often associated with anxiety disorders or a history of panic attacks. They can occur in individuals without any known heart problems.
- Heart attack: Heart attacks are more likely to occur in individuals with certain risk factors, including a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, obesity, or a family history of heart problems.
Response to relaxation techniques
- Panic attack: Employing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises or mindfulness, may help alleviate symptoms or reduce the intensity of a panic attack.
- Heart attack: Relaxation techniques are unlikely to have a significant impact on the symptoms of a heart attack.
Duration of symptoms
- Panic attack: Panic attack symptoms typically reach their peak within minutes and subside within 10 to 30 minutes. While some residual symptoms may linger, the overall episode is relatively short-lived.
- Heart attack: Heart attack symptoms can persist for an extended period. The duration can vary, but symptoms typically last for more than 20 minutes and can continue for hours. If you experience symptoms that last for an extended period, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention.
Age and risk factors
- Panic attack: Panic attacks can occur at any age, including in children and adolescents. They are more common in individuals with a history of anxiety or panic disorder, but they can also occur in individuals without a previous diagnosis.
- Heart attack: Heart attacks are more common in older individuals, particularly those over the age of 50. Certain risk factors increase the likelihood of a heart attack, including smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and a family history of heart disease.
- Panic attack: Panic attacks are typically diagnosed based on the symptoms reported by the individual. There are no specific medical tests to confirm the presence of a panic attack. However, a healthcare professional may conduct medical evaluations to rule out other potential causes of the symptoms.
- Heart attack: Diagnosing a heart attack involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. These tests may include an electrocardiogram (ECG), blood tests to measure cardiac enzymes and imaging tests such as an echocardiogram or coronary angiography.