man holding his chest in pain

Is It a Heart Attack or a Panic Attack?

  • Posted on: Sep 17 2022
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How can you tell the difference between a heart attack and a panic attack?

Raise your hand if you recognize this scene from a movie or TV show. Someone is displaying obvious signs of distress and clutching their arm. Others rush to offer assistance and learn that the individual is having pains in his right arm and is terrified he is having a heart attack. Immediately, a calm voice is heard telling everyone that it can’t be a heart attack because the pain is in the wrong arm…

Yes, that may be a somewhat cheesy composite narrative but it also may sound familiar. Healthcare professionals have been actively pushing back against this particular inaccuracy for some time, but there are still those who believe arm pain only shows up in the left arm during a heart attack. This is not true. During a heart attack, pain is often present in the left arm, but it can also be in the right arm, both arms, or neither.

Recognizing the signs of a heart attack is extremely important. “Time is muscle” is a saying that stresses the importance of immediate treatment: the more time that passes, the more damage to the heart muscle and the potential for permanent disability or even loss of life. The fact that many of the symptoms displayed during a panic attack are the same as though associated with a heart attack only makes the situation more complicated. 

Heart Attack or Panic Attack?

Panic attacks can come on suddenly and have symptoms eerily similar to those of a heart attack. It can be difficult to tell the difference between them, especially when in the midst of such a frightening event. Panic attacks do tend to happen periodically so, at least after the first one, this may be a clue to distinguishing between that and a heart attack in the future. That said, a panic attack can be a one-time event.

Heart Attack Symptoms

Everyone should be familiar with the symptoms of a heart attack, including recognizing the different ways that symptoms present in men and women. The most common symptoms of a heart attack include some or all of the following:

  • Pain or pressure in the chest area
  • Racing heartbeat, may feel like a pounding in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in other parts of the body, such as the jaw, neck, arms, shoulders or back
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness or feeling faint
  • Profuse sweating, may be a cold sweat
  • Strong feeling of fear, dread or impending doom

Panic Attack Symptoms

Symptoms of a panic attack include some or all of the following:

  • Pain in the chest area
  • Racing heartbeat, may feel like a pounding in the chest
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Pain or tingling in arms, hands and fingers
  • Stomach pain or nausea
  • Dizziness and weakness
  • Sweating
  • Extreme feelings of fear and anxiety, as well as impending doom
  • Trembling or shaking

Is there any wonder why it’s so easy to mistake one of these frightening conditions for the other? 

Panic attacks are serious but heart attacks are life-threatening. If there is the slightest possibility that what you are experiencing is a heart attack, it is crucial to get medical attention as soon as possible. 

At Cardiovascular Wellness, our mission is to provide outstanding, timely, and personalized care to all of our patients. We are committed to improving your quality of life by designing a comprehensive plan of heart care, individualized to your needs.

Information on locations and office hours for Cardiovascular Wellness can be found by clicking here

Posted in: Heart Attack

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