If you feel your heart pounding, shortness of breath and chest pain, are you having a panic attack or a heart attack? How can you tell the difference?
The signs and symptoms of a panic attach are similar to those of a heart attack. Anyone experiencing chest pain and other heart attack symptoms of unknown origin should call 9-1-1 immediately.
If it’s not your heart, the heart palpitations felt during a panic or anxiety attack are often not serious and do not signal a health concern. However, research has shown that emotional stress can contribute to the development of heart disease.
A surge of fear can overcome someone experiencing a panic attack, and they often believe they are going to die. They may experience heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, nausea, chest pain and sudden chills.
Unlike a heart attack, a panic attack is not medically dangerous. However, if you experience these symptoms, you should rule out a heart attack first. If it’s not your heart, then you can alleviate some of the worry when you do experience a panic attack.
Does stress cause heart disease?
Stress is a normal part of life, but your heart can be affected by it. There is some evidence that stress can accelerate atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque in the artery walls, especially in people with Type A personalities.
Chronic stress can cause increased inflammation of the blood vessels, associated with an elevated risk of atherosclerosis. People under chronic stress also tend to have other cardiovascular risk factors, such as smoking or overeating. Chronic stress also may cause coronary constriction or spasm, which decreases blood flow to the heart muscle and can cause chest pain or heart attack.
In addition, severe emotional stress can precipitate more acute cardiac conditions, including sudden cardiac death. Extremely stressful life events, including death, divorce and natural disasters, are associated with a significantly increased risk of cardiac death due to elevations in blood pressure, heart rate and accelerated blood clotting.
No one can avoid stress, but take steps to control your response to stress if you think you may be at risk for stress-related heart disease.
Chest Pain & Stroke Hotline
If you have questions about heart attack or stroke symptoms, you can talk to a Western Baptist nurse free 24 hours a day on the Chest Pain & Stroke Hotline: 1-800-575-1911.
Send your questions!
Do you have a cardiac question tugging at your heart? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail it to HeartBeat, 2501 Kentucky Ave., Paducah, KY 42003. If we use it in a future HeartBeat column, you will receive a Western Baptist Hospital door prize.