March 03, 2020

Panic Attack vs. Heart Attack: What’s The Difference?

Panic or anxiety attacks and heart attacks share many symptoms. Consequently, it can be challenging to tell the difference between an anxiety attack and a heart attack. That’s why it’s important to learn to assess panic attack vs. heart attack signs, especially if you or a loved one have an elevated risk or history of either of these conditions.

Panic Attack vs. Heart Attack Symptoms

When talking about panic attack vs. heart attack symptoms, it’s critical to note that the conditions manifest differently in different people. It’s also important to be aware that panic attacks and heart attacks have a number of symptoms in common, including:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating

However, each condition has unique symptoms as well. For example, a panic attack may cause tingling in the hands and shaking. A heart attack can produce nausea and vomiting.

There are also certain differences in the shared symptoms, most notably in chest pain. The pain in a panic attack tends to be a sharp, stabbing pain in the center of the chest. Heart attack chest pain sometimes starts in the center of the chest, but often radiates to the arm, shoulder blades or jaw.

Additional Differences Between Heart Attacks and Anxiety Disorders

For people seeking clarification on anxiety vs. heart attack pain, doctors will suggest onset and duration as additional ways to determine which condition you’re experiencing. Both can come on suddenly, but pain that develops as a result of physical exertion is more likely due to a heart attack.

In terms of how long they last, panic attacks tend to resolve after 20 or 30 minutes. Heart attack symptoms typically last longer and worsen as time goes by. Mild chest pain may become severe over the course of several minutes.

When to See a Doctor for a Panic Attack and a Heart Attack

The first rule when assessing whether you’re having a panic attack or a heart attack is that if you have any doubt, seek immediate medical attention. It’s much better to be reassured that while your symptoms are troubling, they’re associated with a panic attack and will soon resolve rather than determining over time that you’re having a heart attack and suffering additional heart damage while you wait to get treatment. If you know that what you’re experiencing is a panic or anxiety attack, you should talk with a Baptist Health provider about how to prevent or manage future attacks. If you determine that you’re having a heart attack, you should get emergency care.

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