How to tell the difference between a heart attack and a panic attack


A heart attack and a panic attack share many similar symptoms, so determining which one is crucial, experts say.

Chest pain, a racing heart, shortness of breath and sweating can occur with both, but just one heart attack can be fatal, according to a team at Penn State Health.

A heart attack occurs when a blockage in an artery restricts blood flow to the heart muscle. Symptoms continue until the person receives emergency medical treatment. In a panic attack, symptoms can last 20 minutes and then disappear.

However, only a healthcare professional can confirm a heart attack or panic attack, so any of the common symptoms should be taken seriously, experts said.

Men age 45 and older and women 55 and older are at higher risk of heart attack than younger men and women. Other people at high risk include people with high blood cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or a family history of heart attack.

“If a young person with no risk factors experiences chest pain, the chance of it being a heart attack is very low,” said Dr. Rajesh Dave, an interventional cardiologist at Penn State Health Holy Spirit Medical Center, in a Penn State press release. .

“But chest pain in a 50-year-old long-smoker with a 20-year history of diabetes probably indicates a heart attack and needs urgent medical attention,” Dave added.

Stress and anxiety are the main risk factors for panic attacks, but anxiety can also be associated with a heart attack.

Heart attack patients often have some symptoms in the days or weeks leading up to the attack, and heart attacks occur most often during physical activity. Panic attacks generally occur when a person is resting and can be caused by an anxiety trigger, such as receiving bad news.

People who have a panic attack should sit in a quiet, dark place and breathe deeply to help slow their heart rate.

Dr. Michael Farbaniec, a cardiologist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, said, “If you can’t tell if it’s a panic or a heart attack, or you just want to be sure, call 911 and get seen right away. “

You can lower your risk of heart attack by eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly, Dave said. Panic attacks can be prevented through stress-reducing techniques such as meditation and yoga.

“And quitting will lower your risk of panic and heart attacks,” Dave advised.

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