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.
Panic Attack Symptoms & Panic Attack Treatments
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:
- Sudden high anxiety with or without a cause
- A “racing” heart
- Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers
- Sense of terror, or impending doom or death
- Feeling sweaty or having chills
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Breathing difficulties, including a “smothering” sensation or shortness of breath
- A feeling of choking
- Feeling a loss of control
- A sense of unreality
- A fear of going crazy or losing control
- A fear of dying
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.
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:
- Conduct a physical exam.
- Conduct blood tests to check your thyroid and other possible conditions.
- Test your heart using an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG).
- Conduct a psychological evaluation to talk about your symptoms, fears or concerns, stressful situations, relationship problems, situations you may be avoiding, and family history.
- Have you fill out a psychological self-assessment or questionnaire. You also may be asked about alcohol or other substance use.
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:
- Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is considered an effective first-choice treatment for panic attacks and panic disorder. Psychotherapy can help you understand panic attacks and panic disorder and learn how to cope with them.
- Medications can help reduce symptoms associated with panic attacks as well as depression if that’s an issue for you. Several types of medication have been shown to be effective in managing symptoms of panic attacks.
- Mindfulness (meditation) can be used preventatively, as part of your daily wellness routine, to decrease the amount of stress in your life, and make panic attacks less likely to happen in the first place. But meditation is also a powerful tool to help you manage your panic attacks as they are happening when you are looking for the most relief. Meditation techniques such as breathing, mindfulness, visualization, and grounding your body in the present moment, all work to tell your body that you are safe now. This helps quiet down the flight or flight response.
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.
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:
- Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
- Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint. You may also break out into a cold sweat.
- Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders.
- Shortness of breath. This often comes along with chest discomfort, but shortness of breath also can happen before chest discomfort.
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:
- Age. Men age 45 and older and women age 55 and older are more likely to have a heart attack than are younger men and women.
- Tobacco use. This includes smoking and long-term exposure to secondhand smoke. If you smoke, quit.
- High blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure can damage arteries that lead to the heart. High blood pressure that occurs with other conditions, such as obesity, high cholesterol, or diabetes, increases the risk even more.
- High cholesterol or triglycerides. A high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) is most likely to narrow arteries. A high level of certain blood fats called triglycerides also increases heart attack risk. Your heart attack risk may drop if levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — the “good” cholesterol — are in the standard range.
- Obesity. Obesity is linked with high blood pressure, diabetes, high levels of triglycerides and bad cholesterol, and low levels of good cholesterol.
- Diabetes. Blood sugar rises when the body doesn’t make a hormone called insulin or can’t use it correctly. High blood sugar increases the risk of a heart attack.
- Metabolic syndrome. This is a combination of at least three of the following things: enlarged waist (central obesity), high blood pressure, low good cholesterol, high triglycerides, and high blood sugar. Having metabolic syndrome makes you twice as likely to develop heart disease than if you don’t have it.
- Family history of heart attacks. If a brother, sister, parent, or grandparent had an early heart attack (by age 55 for males and by age 65 for females), you might be at increased risk.
- Not enough exercise. A lack of physical activity (a sedentary lifestyle) is linked to a higher risk of heart attacks. Regular exercise improves heart health.
- Unhealthy diet. A diet high in sugars, animal fats, processed foods, trans fats, and salt increases the risk of heart attacks. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, fiber, and healthy oils.
- Stress. Emotional stress, such as extreme anger, may increase the risk of a heart attack.
- Illegal drug use. Cocaine and amphetamines are stimulants. They can trigger a coronary artery spasm that can cause a heart attack.
- A history of preeclampsia. This condition causes high blood pressure during pregnancy. It increases the lifetime risk of heart disease.
- An autoimmune condition. Having a condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus can increase the risk of a heart attack.
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:
- Physical activity. Talk with your health care team about the things you do each day in your life and work. Your doctor may want you to limit work, travel, or sexual activity for some time after a heart attack.
- Lifestyle changes. Eating a healthier diet, increasing physical activity, quitting smoking, and managing stress—in addition to taking prescribed medicines—can help improve your heart health and quality of life. Ask your health care team about attending a program called cardiac rehabilitation to help you make these lifestyle changes.
- Cardiac rehabilitation. Cardiac rehabilitation is an important program for anyone recovering from a heart attack, heart failure, or other heart problem that required surgery or medical care. Cardiac rehab is a supervised program that includes:
- Physical activity. Talk with your health care team about recommended physical activities that are right for you. Some easy changes are taking a walk, using the stairs instead of an elevator, and simple exercises that can be done at home.
- Education. Education about healthy living, including healthy eating, taking medications as prescribed, and ways to help you quit smoking.
- Counseling. Counseling to find ways to relieve stress and improve mental health.
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.