Heart Attack or Anxiety attack
The differences between a heart attack and anxiety attack (panic attack).
A heart attack and anxiety attack have similar signs and symptoms
Heart attack symptoms and signs:
- Chest pain or discomfort.
- Shortness of breath.
- Heart palpitations or racing heart.
- Upper body pain (shoulders, arms, back, neck, jaw, teeth, etc.).
- Stomach upset and pain.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Hot or cold sweats.
- Fainting (more likely with women, the elderly, and people with diabetes).
This list is not exhaustive. For more information about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, see your doctor.
Some common anxiety attack signs and symptoms:
- Chest pain or discomfort.
- Body pains (upper or elsewhere).
- Upset stomach discomfort or pain.
- Shortness of breath.
- Racing heart.
- Lightheadedness or dizziness.
- Hot and cold flushes.
- Profuse sweating.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Feel faint.
- Fatigue and exhaustion.
Plus a great many more. For more information about the many signs and symptoms of anxiety and anxiety attacks, see our anxiety symptoms page.
Because anxiety attack symptoms can happen suddenly and without warning, as can heart attack symptoms. And because anxiety attack symptoms are similar to heart attack symptoms, it's little wonder many anxious people end up in the emergency department due to a concern about having a heart attack when they are having an anxiety attack.
Because heart attack symptoms can represent a serious medical emergency, it's best to seek immediate medical attention if you aren't sure if you are having a heart attack or an anxiety attack. Fortunately, most medical professionals can easily tell the difference between an anxiety attack and a heart attack.
If your doctor says you are having, or had, an anxiety attack, you can feel confident that your doctor's diagnosis is correct. There are many distinct differences between the two, which most good doctors can spot easily. Medical tests are a sure way of knowing which is which.
How to tell a difference between an anxiety attack and a heart attack?
If you are having a hard time telling the difference between the symptoms associated with an anxiety attack and those of a heart attack, here are some things to watch for:
Anxiety attacks generally produces more symptoms than just those similar to a heart attack. For example, anxiety attacks often produce body-wide sensations and symptoms that heart attacks don’t. Again, most medical professionals can spot the differences easily.
Anxiety attacks generally don’t cause people to pass out. Even though you might feel like passing out due to an anxiety attack, most people don't. While some people do, this is the exception and not the rule.
Anxiety attacks can cause hyperventilation, which can cause symptoms similar to those of a heart attack. Calming yourself down, relaxing your breathing, and giving your body a few minutes to adjust usually alleviates symptoms that are solely related to hyperventilation and anxiety. Within a few minutes, you should be able to tell the difference as heart attack symptoms generally don’t subside this easily or quickly.
While anxiety attacks can upset the stomach and make it feel like you need to vomit, most people generally don't. Yes, some people do, but this is the exception not the rule.
Calming yourself down can end an anxiety attack, which will cause the cessation of anxiety attack symptoms. Calming yourself down does little to alleviate a heart attack and its symptoms. While calming yourself down may reduce some of the symptoms of a heart attack, it generally doesn't eliminate all of them, or as quickly or easily.
These are just a few of the differences between anxiety attack symptoms and heart attack symptoms.
Moreover, many people become anxious if they think they are having a heart attack, which can cause an anxiety attack and its symptoms. So anxiety attack symptoms can coexist with heart attack symptoms. Furthermore, being anxious can aggravate heart attack symptoms. With all this combined, it may be difficult to tell which is which. This is why it's best to seek immediate medical attention if you are concerned that you are having a heart attack.
Keep in mind, most medical professionals prefer you seek their assistance if you believe you are having a heart attack. They aren't bothered or annoyed by being cautious. Even if you aren't having a heart attack, it's better to be cautious than uncertain. It's also better for you to know your symptoms are solely anxiety attack related and not those of a heart attack, as worry is a common cause of anxiety and anxiety attacks.
Can an anxiety attack cause a heart attack?
No. If you don’t have an underlying heart issue, anxiety attacks don’t cause heart attacks. If you have an underlying heart condition, however, anxiety attacks stress the body and can aggravate an existing heart condition…and even bring on an anxiety attack if your heart condition is serious.
If you have an existing heart condition and are experiencing anxiety disorder and anxiety attacks, it's best to talk with your doctor and work at addressing your anxiety underlying factors so that your body’s stress can become lower overall.
For more information about anxiety’s underlying factors, join our Recovery Support area by clicking on the button below.
If you'd like personal assistance with dealing with your anxiety disorder, visit our anxiety personal coaching/therapy option here.
Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated April 2015.
It's best to discuss your symptoms with your doctor in order to verify whether they are being caused by a heart attack or anxiety attack.