Panic Attack or Heart Attack?

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Symptoms of a heart attack and a panic attack can be similar, like having chest pain and shortness of breath. How can you tell the difference? Bryce Munson, DO, with Overlake Clinics Urgent Care, discusses the similarities and differences of both attacks and offers tips for prevention.

If you think you might be having a heart attack, call 911 right away. Do not try to get to the hospital on your own. 

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when an artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the heart gets blocked and the heart muscle gets damaged.

Common heart attack symptoms include:

  • Pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest (particularly that is new or severe, lasts more than a few minutes, and gets worse with exertion).
  • Pain, tingling, or discomfort in arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Feeling out of breath.
  • Burping, heartburn, nausea or vomiting.
  • Sweating or cold and clammy skin.
  • A fast or uneven heartbeat.
  • Feeling dizzy or about to pass out.

What are the symptoms of a panic attack?

A panic attack is an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort that occurs from a calm or anxious state. The hallmark symptom of panic disorder is recurrent panic attacks.

One in four people with a panic attack will have chest pain and shortness of breath. Other symptoms include:

  •     Palpitations, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate.
  •     Sweating.
  •     Trembling.
  •     Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering.
  •     Feelings of choking.
  •     Chest discomfort.
  •     Nausea or abdominal discomfort.
  •     Feeling dizzy, unsteady or faint.
  •     Numbness or tingling.

What are some tips for preventing panic and heart attacks?    

The following are six tips for living a healthy lifestyle to help prevent illness and disease: 

  • See a primary care provider and/or a mental health specialist for your panic attack. Treatment can include psychotherapy, which can help change how you think and react to your situation, as well as medication.
  • Don’t smoke. You can cut your risk of heart disease and stroke in half within 1-2 years when you quit.
  • Exercise moderately at least 150 minutes per week.
  • Avoid a diet high in sugar, saturated fat and trans fat. Heart-healthy food includes lots of fruit, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, legumes, fish, whole grains and plant-based oils, such as olive oil.
  • If you have high blood pressure, please see your primary care provider. High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for heart attack and stroke. It can be managed by medications and lifestyle modifications, including adopting a diet low in salt, saturated fats, cholesterol and alcohol. Exercise, weight loss and stress management are also key in lowering your blood pressure.
  • Self-care and stress modification are essential in order to live a healthy life. This may include yoga, meditation, reading a good book, exercise, taking a bath, stretching, getting a massage, walking outside, limiting screen time, practicing a hobby, preparing a healthy meal and laughing.

Because symptoms of a heart attack and a panic attack are similar and you are uncertain which you are having, call 911 immediately. A heart attack is life-threatening. 


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