Panic Attacks Or Heart Attack: What’s The Difference?

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Panic Attacks Or Heart Attack: What's The Difference?

You’re having a panic attack but you don’t know that it’s called a panic attack. You’re experiencing shortness of breath, severe chest pain, a racing heart, and maybe one or two other physical symptoms too. These are all the signs of a heart attack, aren’t they? Your mind screams “OMG, I am having a heart attack! I could die here!”. You don’t stop to philosophically weigh up whether panic attacks or heart attacks is the right call. Your body’s natural response is to do fear, which, of course, makes those symptoms worse.

Maybe someone calls 911 and asks for an ambulance for you. You get emergency care when the paramedics arrive. You are taken to the emergency department of the nearest hospital and after doing a blood test and maybe having a scan of your chest, it’s determined that your symptoms were actually signs of a panic attack and nothing more. You feel like a fool! If you are suffering from a panic disorder, this sequence can repeat itself over and over again. You are a regular visitor to the emergency room and your quality of life has been badly affected by this.

This article aims to help educate you about the symptoms of a panic attack and the symptoms of a heart attack. We’ll examine how similar they are and what the appropriate response is.

Symptoms Of A Panic Attack

Here are some of the more common symptoms of panic attacks:

  • Your heart suddenly beating much faster than normal
  • You notice that your breathing is faster or more shallow than normal
  • Experiencing a strong feeling of fear without necessarily knowing what you are afraid of
  • Your stomach feeling sick or nauseous
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Tingling in your fingers
  • Sweating
  • Chest tightness or pain
overcome panic attacks mp3 cover image

Self-Hypnosis Audio For Panic Attacks

Self-hypnosis can be a great tool to help you visualize a future where you are calm and in control and react differently to those triggers.

Symptoms Of A Heart Attack

Here are some of the more common symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Chest pain or an extremely uncomfortable feeling in your chest. Some people experience this as tightness while others will describe it as a squeezing sensation in their chest..
  • Pain or a very uncomfortable feeling in your jaw, neck arm, shoulder, or even in your back.
  • Feeling like you are not getting enough air when you breathe
  • Sweating
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded

Key Differences: Panic Attacks Or Heart Attack

It can be difficult, even for medical professionals, to distinguish quickly between panic attacks and heart attack. This is why if paramedics are called to your location, typically they will recommend you go to the hospital to get properly checked out. All you have to do to figure out why, is to compare the two sets of symptoms (above). You should notice that they are almost identical. There are some key differences though, that can help tell which condition you are experiencing:

  1. In a panic attack, chest pain is usually experienced in one area of the chest and does not spread out. In contrast, typically chest pain caused by a heart attack does spread outwards from the chest area.
  2. It is quite common for a heart attack to be caused by physical exertion (eg. climbing the stairs in your house, or running for a bus or train). Physical exertion is not usually a trigger for a panic attack.
  3. A common sign of a heart attack is that your symptoms get gradually worse and also last longer. Panic attacks generally last a couple of minutes and then subside.

In her excellent article on the difference between panic attacks and heart attack, cardiologist Mistyann-Blue Miller M.D. explains some subtle differences between the chest tightness experienced in a panic attack versus what a heart attack victim experiences.

“With a heart attack, pain radiates to other areas, like the arm, jaw, or neck. If it’s a panic attack, pain will typically stay in the chest”

Mistyann-Blue Miller, M.D

These differences are subtle and most people don’t even know of them. It is my personal belief that those differences are too subtle for the ordinary guy or girl in the street to decide for themselves, especially if it’s your first time. If you suffer from frequent panic attacks, then you may have become more familiar with your anxiety symptoms and feel more confident that it is just a panic attack.

overcome panic attacks mp3 cover image

Self-Hypnosis Audio For Panic Attacks

Self-hypnosis can be a great tool to help you visualize a future where you are calm and in control and react differently to those triggers.

Common Causes Of Chest Pain

The automatic assumption that most people make when they have chest pain is that it means there is something wrong with their heart. Of course, that is potentially true. It might be their heart. It could be a sign of an impending heart attack or a sign of undiagnosed heart disease. It could also be high blood pressure or inflammation of the muscles around the heart. However, there are also many non-heart-related potential explanations such as:

  • A panic attack
  • Gallstones
  • Shingles
  • Pancreatitis
  • Lung issues

I think the important thing to remember is that you are not a doctor. No one expects you to be. Of course, you don’t know if it’s panic attacks or heart attack – how could you? The job of diagnosing is the job of your health care provider. Your healthcare provider would much prefer to be inconvenienced by being called out to treat your panic attack rather than to not be called and to hear of your death.

What's The Appropriate Treatment?

Yes, you are risking feeling like a fool if you mistake your panic attack symptoms for the onset of a heart attack! However, as I explain to my clients, if I wasn’t sure in the moment whether it was panic attacks or heart attack, I’d prefer to feel like a fool and be alive rather than making an assumption and being wrong (and of course, dead!). If you are in any doubt, it is always appropriate to seek immediate medical attention. Both panic attacks and heart attack have similar symptoms and you are not a doctor, so always err on the safe side!

If you are diagnosed with one of the anxiety disorders or panic disorder, there are several treatment options, depending on the severity of your problem:

  1. Talking Therapy: In my opinion, having been a therapist for over 15 years, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), and hypnotherapy are the best options. Now, of course, other clinicians will probably have differing opinions but my top two choices have been selected as a result of talking with many panic attack clients over the years and finding out what worked for them and what didn’t. When it comes to panic, traditional counseling, in my opinion, doesn’t work that well.
  2. Medications: If your anxiety needs more immediate intervention, your doctor may choose an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) which is more commonly known as an anti-depressant, or some other medication that is appropriate in your particular case.
  3. Self Help: If your panic problem is not too severe and you’d like to attempt to manage it yourself, you can download my self-hypnosis recording “Overcome Panic Attacks” and listen for at least thirty days. There are more self-help tips in the next section.
overcome panic attacks mp3 cover image

Self-Hypnosis Audio For Panic Attacks

Self-hypnosis can be a great tool to help you visualize a future where you are calm and in control and react differently to those triggers.

Is There Anything I Can Do To Help Myself?

The following tips are for your second or subsequent panic attacks. The first time out, you have probably got immediate medical care and hopefully, they will have conducted tests in the hospital to confirm that your heart health is fine. So now you know these are just panic attacks, here are some helpful tips to help you understand how to cure panic attacks fast:

  1. Challenge The Thoughts – if this is your second or subsequent time having a panic attack and you have already been diagnosed with panic, it is relatively safe to assume that this is just a panic attack (as long as the symptoms feel the same as the last time you had a panic attack which was diagnosed as panic). So it is appropriate to challenge thoughts that you are about to die and replace them with “it’s only panic – I’ll be ok soon”.
  2. Stay Where You Are – don’t move or run away – just accept that it’s your mind making a mistake and that we all make mistakes from time to time. Running away from the situation just confirms the mistake and probably makes sure it happens again. Instead, just stay there if you can, and keep reminding yourself that where you are is safe and that you’ll be ok shortly.
  3. Download The Breathing Exercises (above) – learn how to breathe in a way that reduces your panic.
  4. Reduce Your Adrenaline – remember, when you are having a panic attack, your body is pumping out adrenaline as “emergency muscle fuel” in its mistaken belief that you need to either fight or run away. If you’re not using the adrenaline by either fighting or running away then it feels really uncomfortable. Clenching and releasing your muscles helps to burn off excess adrenaline

Why Do I Keep Thinking I'm Having A Heart Attack?

I have seen hundreds of panic attack sufferers over the years in my clinic and there are some who, even though they have been diagnosed with a panic disorder, still think they are having a heart attack each time. I regularly get asked, “Why do I do that?”. They will tell me that they have had every test under the sun and that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they do not have a heart problem. Yet when they experience their panic attack triggers, they instantly believe that their intense chest pain is definitely a heart attack.

The reason lies in the difference between our conscious mind and our unconscious mind. Our conscious mind has been informed by a professional that what we have experienced is a panic attack but our much more powerful unconscious mind still believes we are about to die from a heart attack. Part of the solution to this is to stop fearing the symptoms of a panic attack so that now any chest discomfort is a trigger to smile and realize your symptoms of anxiety will go away much faster by doing this. The best, and quickest way to program your unconscious mind is by self-hypnosis.

overcome panic attacks mp3 cover image

Self-Hypnosis Audio For Panic Attacks

Self-hypnosis can be a great tool to help you visualize a future where you are calm and in control and react differently to those triggers.

Self Hypnosis For Panic Attacks

When you have had all of the appropriate tests and a heart problem has been completely ruled out, self-hypnosis can be a great way to relieve the emotional stress of a panic attack or anxiety attack. The suggestions on the recording will run you through a rehearsal of your next panic attack where this time you breathe slowly and deeply, you take control of your heart rate and you dissipate the fight or flight response.

By listening to my recording “Overcome Panic Attacks” for at least thirty days, you’ll embed the message in your unconscious mind that unexpected panic attacks are non-life threatening and that you can respond automatically by becoming calm. Your unconscious mind will be convinced that you are not actually in real danger.

Self-hypnosis downloads are suitable for the vast majority of people, however, there are a small number of people for whom, because of a mental health condition such as psychosis, or a physical condition such as epilepsy, self-hypnosis audios are simply not suitable. If you’d like to find out more, you can read this article – “Is Self Hypnosis Suitable For Everyone?

This Article Might Be helpful Too

One of the things people with low self-confidence struggle with is self-love so maybe this article can help you with that – How To Build Confidence In Yourself

Picture of Author: Paul Hunter

Author: Paul Hunter

Although thousands of people read his blog every month, Paul's path to success was not an easy one. Click here to read his amazing story "From Unwanted Baby And Adopted To A Respected Self Help Blogger". If you want to send Paul a quick message, then visit his contact page here

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Picture of Paul Hunter

Paul Hunter

Although thousands of people read his blog every month, Paul's path to success was not an easy one. Click here to read his amazing story "From Unwanted Baby And Adopted To A Respected Self Help Blogger". If you want to send Paul a quick message, then visit his contact page here

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