Signs of a heart attack vs. panic attack

Heart attack and panic attack symptoms often overlap. They can include chest pain, dizziness, sweating, fainting, vertigo, racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, hand and foot numbness, trembling, and even feeling like you’re going to die.

So, how do you know if your symptoms are caused by a panic or heart attack?

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden attack of anxiety and fear. While panic attacks aren’t life-threatening, they can seriously impact your mental health and quality of life.

The symptoms of a panic attack are chest pain, a sense of impending doom, intense feelings of fear and anxiety, racing or pounding heart, sweating, trembling or shaking, difficulty breathing, dizziness, weakness, nausea and stomach pain.

A panic attack can occur without warning or be caused by a stressful event. When a person has recurring panic attacks, they may be diagnosed with panic disorder. Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder and is treatable. But isolated panic attacks can happen to anyone, even if you don’t have panic disorder.

If you’ve never had a heart attack, but have been diagnosed with panic disorder and fear having a heart attack, we recommend you see your health care provider to assess your heart health.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when you don’t have enough blood flow to your heart, often because of a blocked artery.

The symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain or pressure, lightheadedness, fainting, racing or pounding heart, shortness of breath, sweating (including cold sweats), nausea or vomiting, a sense of impending doom, and pain or discomfort in your jaw, neck, arms, back or shoulders.

Is there a link between heart and panic attacks?

Panic attacks aren’t likely to cause heart attacks, though it’s possible. That said, your mental health can impact your heart health. For example, people with chronic stress, anxiety and depression may be at increased risk of heart problems.

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

As you can see, heart attack and panic attack symptoms are extremely similar, but there are a few ways you may be able to tell them apart.

The sensation of chest pain: Heart attacks often feel like an elephant sitting on your chest or a burning or achy feeling, like heartburn. Panic attacks can cause a racing heartbeat, sharp or stabbing chest pain, or chest discomfort that’s hard to describe. With heart attacks, many people experience chest pain (angina) days or weeks before a heart attack.

Duration of symptoms: Panic attack symptoms can last for a few minutes to an hour. Then they usually go away and then you feel better. Heart attack symptoms are often (but not always) persistent. If you’re having a heart attack, your symptoms may temporarily get better, then worsen again. Note: Time is of the essence if you’re having a heart attack, so don’t wait to see if your symptoms improve: call 911 right away.

Possible triggers: Heart attacks are often triggered by physical exertion, such as shoveling snow or exercising. Both types of attacks can be triggered by emotional stress, though this is more common with panic attacks.

When to seek medical care

It can be hard to differentiate between heart and panic attack symptoms, so we recommend seeking immediate medical care if you have any of the symptoms mentioned above. Call 911 right away; don’t attempt to drive yourself to the emergency department. It’s always better to be safe than sorry and determine the root cause of your symptoms.

If you have questions about your mental or heart health, talk to your primary care provider. To find a provider near you, visit

Dr. Umberto “Gary” Fontana is a board-certified cardiologist at Pardee Cardiology Associates. Dr. Daniel Johnson is a board-certified psychiatrist at Psychiatric and Addictions Therapeutic Healing Services (PATHS) at Pardee.

David Johnson

David Johnson

This article originally appeared on Hendersonville Times-News: Signs of a heart attack vs. panic attack