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Difference Between a Panic Attack and Heart Attack

Aug 04, 2022

Have you ever experienced a “racing heart” and thought you might be having a heart attack? You might be having a panic attack. So…what is the difference between panic attack and heart attack?

Panic attack symptoms are a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety. Panic attacks can also have physical symptoms, including shaking, feeling disorientated, nausea, rapid, irregular heartbeats, dry mouth, breathlessness, sweating, and dizziness. In many cases, a panic attack triggers a fast heart rate, also known as tachycardia. The heart rate may speed up to 200 beats per minute or even faster.

A fast heart rate can make you feel lightheaded and short of breath. Or you might feel fluttering or pounding in the chest. Usually, tachycardia that happens in response to emotional stress and only lasts a few minutes is not harmful. But if it happens regularly, or you have possible heart attack symptoms, seek medical care immediately.

During a heart attack, a lack of blood flow causes the tissue in the heart muscle to die. A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is severely reduced or blocked. The blockage is usually due to a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances in the heart (coronary) arteries.

Today, we are going to look at the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack, cover panic attack symptoms, heart attack symptoms, and treatment options for both.

A young woman having a panic attack

Panic Attack Symptoms & Panic Attack Treatments

Panic Attacks

A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause for the fear. Panic attacks, sometimes called anxiety attacks, can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack, or even dying.

Many people have just one or two panic attacks in their lifetimes, and the problem tends to go away when a stressful situation ends. But if you’ve had multiple, unexpected panic attacks and spent long periods in constant fear of another attack, you may have a condition called panic disorder.

Although panic attacks themselves aren’t life-threatening, they can be frightening and significantly affect your quality of life. But panic attack treatments can be very effective.

It is important to know what panic attack symptoms are so you can seek help and get effective treatment.

Panic Attack Symptoms

Panic attacks typically begin suddenly, without warning. They can strike at any time — when you’re driving a car, at the mall, sound asleep, or in the middle of a meeting or social gathering. You may have occasional panic attacks, or they may occur frequently.

Panic attacks have many variations, but symptoms usually peak within minutes (10-15 minutes). You may feel fatigued and worn out after a panic attack subsides. The chest pain of a panic attack usually stays in the mid-chest area (the pain of a heart attack commonly moves toward the left arm or jaw). You may also have rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, and fear. Panic attacks come and disappear suddenly, but leave you exhausted.

If you suddenly have four or more of these symptoms, you may be having a panic attack:

Panic attacks can be a symptom of other anxiety disorders, and people who’ve had one panic attack are at greater risk for another compared to those who’ve never had one. Panic attacks and panic disorders are not the same thing. When panic attacks happen repeatedly and you worry about having more episodes, you may have panic disorder.

One of the worst things about panic attacks is the intense fear that you’ll have another one. You may fear having panic attacks so much that you avoid certain situations where they may occur. This fear of experiencing fear is a vicious cycle that left untreated, can worsen over time.

depressed woman sitting head in hands in the dark bedroom

Treatment For Panic Attacks

Panic attack treatments can help reduce the intensity and frequency of your panic attacks and improve your function in daily life. The main treatment options are psychotherapy, mindfulness, and medications. One or multiple types of treatment may be recommended, depending on your preference, your history, the severity of your panic disorder, and whether you have access to therapists who have special training in treating panic disorders.

Not everyone who has panic attacks has panic disorder.

Your primary care provider can help determine if you are having panic attacks, have a panic disorder, or another condition, such as heart or thyroid problems (which have symptoms that resemble panic attacks).

To help pinpoint a diagnosis, your provider will likely:

Once you and your primary care provider have met and arrived at a diagnosis, they may recommend the following types of panic attack treatments and support:

A common form of psychotherapy used in panic attack treatments is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT can help you learn, through your own experience, that panic symptoms are not dangerous. Your therapist will help you gradually re-create the symptoms of a panic attack in a safe, repetitive manner. Once the physical sensations of panic no longer feel threatening, the attacks begin to resolve. Successful treatment can also help you overcome fears of situations that you’ve avoided because of panic attacks. There are many therapists in Wichita who specialize in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

When To Seek Help

If you have panic attack symptoms, seek medical help as soon as possible. Panic attacks, while intensely uncomfortable, are not dangerous. But panic attacks are hard to manage on your own, and they may get worse without treatment.

Panic attack symptoms can also resemble symptoms of other serious health problems, such as a heart attack, so it’s important to get evaluated by your primary care provider if you aren’t sure what’s causing your symptoms.

At HealthCore Clinic, our culturally appropriate mental health and behavioral health services are designed to reduce stigma and provide a comfortable and safe environment for the management of anxiety, depression, trauma, and behavioral support for other mental health and medical diagnoses. Please reach out to us today if you are experiencing panic attacks, anxiety, or other behavioral health issues.

General practitioner and her aged patient talking about heart diseases

Heart Attack Symptoms, Risks, Treatment & Prevention

Heart Attack Symptoms

A heart attack, like a panic attack, might seem like it came out of nowhere. But in many cases, chest pain due to heart disease, known as angina, appears in the days or weeks before a cardiac event.

You may feel a twinge or some pain in the shoulder or chest but think it’s something else. The symptoms go away. Then later, the pain gets worse, or you feel a little off. Then the heart attack hits. These early signs can be hard to identify.

The major symptoms of a heart attack are:

Other symptoms of a heart attack could include unusual or unexplained tiredness and nausea or vomiting. Women may have atypical symptoms such as brief or sharp pain felt in the neck, arm or back. Sometimes, the first symptom sign of a heart attack is sudden cardiac arrest.

Get help right away if you think you’re having a heart attack. Dial 9-1-1.

Heart Attack Risk Factors

Several health conditions, your lifestyle, and your age and family history can increase your risk for heart disease and heart attack. These are called risk factors. These risk factors should be discussed with your primary care provider during a heart checkup.

Heart attack risks include:

About half of all Americans have at least one of the three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking. Some risk factors cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk by scheduling a heart health checkup and changing the factors you can control.

Treatment and Recovering from a Heart Attack

If you’ve had a heart attack, your heart may be damaged. This could affect your heart’s rhythm and its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. You may also be at risk for another heart attack or conditions such as stroke, kidney disorders, and peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

You can lower your chances of having future health problems following a heart attack with these steps:

A team of people may help you through cardiac rehab, including your health care team, exercise and nutrition specialists, physical therapists, and counselors or mental health professionals.

HealthCore Clinic Is Here To Help

Scheduling An Appointment For Heart Health

At HealthCore Clinic, our integrated care approach means that our clients have convenient, affordable access to improve their whole health and wellness—with medical, dental, behavioral health, and pharmacy services all under one roof.

Contact us today to speak with a member of our team about a heart health checkup, behavioral health consultation, or medical services. Here you’re more than just a client, a customer, a patient—you’re a valued member of our wellness community. Our integrated, whole-body approach wraps you in care. That’s our mission, our core. Caring for you. Promoting a healthy community.