Also, having a heart attack can cause someone to panic, which may make the situation more confusing. If someone thinks they may be having a heart attack, they should seek emergency medical attention.
Every year, about 2 to 3 percent of people in the United States experience panic disorder. Symptoms of a panic attack can include:
- sharp pain in the chest
- tingling in the hands
- shortness of breath
- racing heart
Every year, about 735,000 people in the United States have a heart attack. Symptoms of a heart attack can include:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
While the symptoms of these two conditions overlap, knowing how to tell the difference can be lifesaving.
How to tell the difference
Knowing the difference between a panic attack vs. heart attack can be difficult, especially if a person has never experienced the symptoms of either before.
Distinguishing between the two conditions can be made easier by several factors, including:
Characteristics of the pain
Although chest pain is common to both a panic attack and a heart attack, the characteristics of the pain often differ.
During a panic attack, chest pain is usually sharp or stabbing and localized to the middle of the chest.
Chest pain from a heart attack may resemble pressure or a squeezing sensation.
Chest pain that occurs due to a heart attack may also start in the center of the chest, but can then radiate from the chest to the arm, jaw, or shoulder blades.
As the symptoms of panic attacks and heart attacks are similar, it is always best to seek immediate medical attention when in doubt.
It is vital to seek emergency medical treatment if any of the following symptoms develop:
- sudden severe chest pain
- pressure in the chest, lasting more than 2 or 3 minutes
- chest pain, radiating down the arm or into the jaw
According to the Woman’s Heart Foundation, doctors may mistake heart disease for panic attacks in women. Medical tests, such as an electrocardiogram and blood tests, can help a doctor make an accurate diagnosis.
A person’s outlook and recovery can improve when they receive prompt treatment for a heart attack. Even if symptoms are not due to a heart attack, a person can also receive medical treatment for a panic attack.
The outlook will vary, depending on whether a person has experienced a heart attack or a panic attack.
Although a panic attack may feel very uncomfortable, it is not life-threatening. Panic attacks can interfere with a person’s quality of life, so they should seek appropriate treatment.
A doctor can help treat anxiety and panic attacks with various techniques, including lifestyle modifications, medication, and counseling.
In some cases, a heart attack can be life-threatening. With prompt treatment, many people survive a heart attack. Following a heart attack, a person will also need to take steps to manage the underlying heart disease.
Is there a way to rule out a heart attack at home, or should a person always seek emergency medical attention?
People should always seek emergency medical attention when having chest pain or discomfort, chest pain that radiates to other parts of the body, or shortness of breath. Some other symptoms that might accompany a heart attack include nausea, sweating, and lightheadedness.
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