If you’ve ever been in a situation where you feel your blood pressure rising, your chest tightening, and the world spinning around you, you probably wondered if your were having a panic attack or a heart attack. In fact, the sheer dread that you’re experiencing a heart attack undoubtedly made your symptoms even worse… which made you feel even more strongly that you were having a heart attack.
There are also thousands of unneeded emergency room visits each year because people don’t know how to tell the difference between heart attack symptoms vs. panic attack symptoms. When these people begin having chest pains, they automatically assume that they are having a heart attack, and needlessly spend an evening in an emergency room waiting area.
Conversely, assuming that heart attack symptoms are merely indicative of a panic attack can have lasting and life threatening consequences. Even if you survive a heart attack, failure to secure medical attention can cause you to incur lasting heart damage, impaired motor control, and cognitive impairments.
Fortunately, there are ways to differentiate heart attack symptoms vs. panic attack symptoms. Although they seem very similar, even to a bystander, the differences can help you understand what is happening and what to do about it.
First, let’s look at some of the similarities between symptoms of both conditions:
- Sufferers of both heart attacks and panic attacks will experience a dramatic increase in heart rate. You will likely feel as though your heart is racing, and may feel unable to control it.
- Irregular heartbeat rhythms are common during both panic attacks and heart attacks. Your heart will likely skip beats, or beat very slowly for a few seconds before accelerating.
- Both kinds of attacks involve physical pain and discomfort. You may feel a tightening of the chest, intense muscle tension, headache, and tightening of the jaw.
Now that you know the similarities, let’s take a look at the major differences between heart attack symptoms vs. panic attack symptoms:
- When a heart attack occurs, an irregular or rapid heartbeat is typically followed by intense chest pain. The pain is located in the center of the chest. Although panic attack sufferers often experience tightness of the chest, intense chest pain usually does not occur.
- Heart attack victims often experience intense pain in their upper body parts, including the jaw, arms, neck, and stomach. This pain is typically absent during panic attacks, although sufferers experience tension in these areas.
- There is a marked difference in breathing that differentiates heart attack symptoms vs. panic attack symptoms. When you are having a heart attack, you will experience shortness of breath, and you will feel as if you simply cannot get enough air. When you are having a panic attack, on the other hand, you will usually notice rapid breathing.
The effects of panic attacks are also often much shorter in duration than those of heart attacks. In most cases, a panic attack will only last a moment or two. Heart attack symptoms, on the other hand can last for several minutes. If you experience symptoms that last more than a couple of minutes, it is important that you secure medical attention as soon as possible – each minute that a heart attack continues decreases your chances of survival.