How To Tell The Difference Between Anxiety and A Medical Emergency

Written by Jim Folk
Last updated March 27, 2021

How To Tell The Difference Between Anxiety and A Medical Emergency

Complete Question

How can I know if my symptoms are caused by anxiety or a real medical condition/emergency, such as a heart attack, stroke, MS, or cancer?


Because there are many medical conditions that can cause anxiety-like sensations and symptoms, we recommend that you discuss all new, changing, persistent, and re-occurring symptoms with your doctor. If your doctor concludes that your symptoms are caused solely from anxiety and/or stress, you can be assured that there isn’t another medical condition causing them. Generally, most doctors can easily tell the difference between anxiety and/or stress caused sensations and symptoms from those caused by other medical reasons - because other medical conditions/emergencies have sensations and symptoms that are unlike those caused by anxiety alone.

If you are uncertain about your doctor’s diagnosis, however, you may want to seek a second and even third opinion. But if all three opinions concur, you can feel confident that anxiety and/or stress is the cause of your symptoms and not some other medical or biological problem.

In this case, if symptoms appear, you can be confident that anxiety and/or stress is the cause, and nothing else.

Moreover, it’s wise to become familiar with your anxiety symptoms so that when they occur, you know they are anxiety related only. This knowledge can help you contain when they occur rather than reacting with fear and uncertainty.

If, in addition to anxiety, you have a medical condition that concerns you, you can become aware of the medical condition’s symptoms that are unlike those associated with anxiety. Then, monitor for these different symptoms. If you don’t know what the differences are between anxiety- and/or stress-caused symptoms and those caused by the medical condition, you can ask your doctor to help you recognize the differences so that you are equipped to accurately monitor the medical condition.

Last, if you are experiencing symptoms and don’t know if you are having a medical emergency or just anxiety, it’s best to seek immediate medical attention. It’s better to be cautious. Most doctors prefer you seek immediate medical attention in these situations rather than being unsure, or worse, guessing.

In any case, with help, preparation, and monitoring, you can recognize the differences between anxiety- and stress-caused symptoms from those of real medical conditions. Again, if you are uncertain, talk with your doctor.

You can find more information about "The Difference Between An Anxiety Attack and Heart Attack?

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

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