Panic Attack vs Heart Attack – Knowing the Difference Can Save Your Life
What Is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes, and during which time a variety of psychological and physical symptoms occur. These symptoms include rapid heart rate, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, hot flashes, and lightheadedness—to name just a few. In extreme cases, panic attacks can lead to the person experiencing an intense feeling of impending doom or loss of control. Panic attacks can be very frightening and are often mistaken for a heart attack or other serious medical conditions.
What Is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, is a medical emergency in which the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is blocked. This usually occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle. The lack of oxygen-rich blood can damage or destroy part of the heart muscle, leading to chest pain, shortness of breath, and other symptoms.
The Difference Between Panic Attack and Heart Attack
The symptoms of a panic attack can be very similar to those of a heart attack, but there are some key differences. While chest pain is a common symptom of both panic attacks and heart attacks, the type of pain is different. Heart attack pain is usually described as a squeezing, pressure, or aching sensation in the chest, while panic attack chest pain is more often sharp and stabbing. Additionally, a heart attack can cause pain or discomfort in the left arm, jaw, neck, or back, while panic attacks typically do not.
Another important difference between panic attacks and heart attacks is the duration of symptoms. Panic attack symptoms typically reach their peak within 10 minutes and may last for up to an hour. In contrast, the symptoms of a heart attack may come on gradually and may last for several hours.
Treatment for a panic attack typically includes medications such as benzodiazepines or antidepressants, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Treatment for a heart attack typically includes medications to dissolve the clot, surgery to restore blood flow, and lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of future heart attacks.
When to Seek Medical Attention
It is important to seek medical attention if you are experiencing chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack or panic attack. Seek emergency medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Severe chest pain or discomfort
- Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
If you are experiencing symptoms of a panic attack, seek help from your primary care doctor or a mental health professional. It is important to get help if you are having frequent panic attacks or if they are disrupting your life.