Your heart is pounding in your chest and it’s getting harder to breathe. One terrifying question enters your mind: is this a heart attack or panic attack?
Not only can heart attacks and panic attacks can be difficult to tell apart, but a heart attack can lead to panic, further confusing the two.
Since 580,000 Americans will have their first heart attack this year, it’s important to know the difference between them so you can seek appropriate medical attention.
Keep reading to find out how to tell a heart attack apart from anxiety if it occurs.
A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, happens when part of your heart stops receiving oxygen from the bloodstream. This is usually due to the blockage of a coronary artery (a blood vessel that sends blood to the heart muscle). When they don’t get the oxygen they need, the cardiac muscle cells begin to die, or infarct.
If it’s caught quickly enough, many people can recover from a heart attack after getting proper medical attention. But time is of the essence, so here are the signs to look out for:
Most people who have a heart attack—up to 92%—will experience chest pain. This pain is usually sharp and happens on the left side or center.
Many people describe this sensation as an elephant sitting on top of their chest. It may go away and come back and could also feel like someone is squeezing or putting pressure on your heart.
A heart attack can cause pain, numbness, or tingling that radiates out from your chest. It might travel to your arm, back, stomach, jaw, or neck. The radiating pain usually stays on the left side of your body, but some people feel it on the right side as well.
Shortness of breath usually accompanies chest pain, but can also appear as the first symptom. It often feels like a tightness in your chest that keeps you from taking a deep breath in. You might also be breathing especially fast because you can’t catch your breath, even when sitting still.
Other symptoms that accompany a heart attack can mimic other types of illness. These include nausea, cold sweats, shaking, light-headedness, and weakness.
Women are just as likely as men to have a heart attack, but they often experience the symptoms differently. Many women don’t feel pressure on their chest, but they will have other symptoms of pain, sickness, or shortness of breath.
Some women ignore heart attacks because they think they have the flu. As such, it’s better to seek medical attention just in case if you think you may be having a heart attack.
The signs of a panic attack often overlap with those of a heart attack, but there are some key differences. While a panic attack can also cause chest pain, it’s usually sharp or stabbing and located in the center of the chest without a feeling of pressure. It doesn’t usually radiate through the upper body.
In a panic attack, the pain tends to improve within 20-30 minutes. Panic symptoms usually start after significant emotional stress, while a heart attack may occur during strenuous physical activity.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health. So if you can’t tell if you’re having a heart attack or panic attack, seek medical attention right away.
If you’re in the Gonzales, LA area, stop by Coastal Urgent Care of Gonzales to get checked out. We’re open 7 days a week from 9 am to 8 pm to address your medical needs, so contact us any time.