In the early days when anxiety is still unknown in your life, it may happen to you that you are suffering from an anxiety attack or panic attack and you think you are having a heart attack. It is common to confuse both situations, so it is convenient to learn to distinguish an anxiety attack from a heart attack. Because if you think it’s a heart attack, the anxiety attack will become more intense. Let’s set the record straight, is it anxiety or is it a heart attack?
What is a heart attack (or myocardial infarction)?
A heart attack occurs when a clot blocks the coronary arteries that carry blood and oxygen. This causes a cut in blood flow and heart cells can die. Myocardial infarction or heart attack is a serious and dangerous event that can lead to death if medical attention is not received quickly.
Blockage of the coronary arteries can be caused by cholesterol, for example, although a heart attack can also occur due to unhealthy lifestyle habits. Among the risk it is tobacco, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure and even a family history of coronary disease.
Heart Attack Symptoms
But how does a heart attack manifest itself? The symptoms of myocardial infarction can vary, but in most cases there is arrhythmia or sudden alteration of the heart rhythm, shortness of breath, cold sweat, dizziness, feeling of exhaustion and, the key, pressure in the chest and in the arms. Arms and severe pain that can reach the neck or jaw.
A heart attack can come on suddenly, but many people experience mild symptoms for several days. In any case, it should be clarified that in case of any doubt, medical help should be sought immediately. Even if you are confusing the symptoms of a heart attack with those of an anxiety attack. Because both situations are similar and now we explain why.
What is an anxiety attack (or panic attack)?
The anxiety attack, for its part, is a very intense reaction of your body. So intense and so terrifying that you can easily mistake it for a heart attack. The anxiety attack or panic can occur without you having previously felt nervous, anxious or fearful, hence the confusion.
It must be clarified that an anxiety attack does not put your life at risk, but when you are suffering from it you do not know it. Or you can’t think of it. The fear is such that the reason disappears to give way only to negative emotions and terror, hence it is also known as a panic attack. I’m going to die? This is what is usually thought when suffering an attack of this type, especially if it is the first time it has happened to you.
Anxiety Attack Symptoms
Anxiety attack shares some symptoms with a heart attack, such as shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and discomfort in the arms, numbness, sweating, and fatigue. Added to this is the feeling of unreality or depersonalization, as if your mind and body were separate and the certainty that you have lost control.
As you can see, here we begin to distinguish some symptoms that do not appear in the case of a heart attack. To clarify things a bit, the symptoms of a heart attack are only physical, excluding the fear of dying, while in anxiety the physical symptoms are accompanied (and in many cases are caused by them) by psychological symptoms.
Differences between anxiety attack and heart attack
Luckily, the anxiety or panic attack is more frequent than the heart attack. So if you start to notice some symptoms that they share, think that it is more likely that it is anxiety than a heart problem. But we remember what differentiates the anxiety attack from the heart attack.
The shape of the pain, for example, can give you the key to differentiate them quickly. In the case of a heart attack, it is intense pain, more like a huge pressure in the chest, while in the case of anxiety the pain is shooting and can come and go.
The location of the pain also varies, since in the case of an anxiety attack, it does not reach the neck or jaw. Although there are also differences in terms of duration, you should not wait to check it. The anxiety attack passes yes or yes, its symptoms subside in about 10 minutes, although sometimes it can take a little longer. However, waiting 10 minutes to check if it is anxiety or a heart attack can put your life at risk.
You can also pay attention to breathing, because although in both cases there is difficulty breathing, the way it appears is different. If you’re having a heart attack you can’t breathe, as if something were blocking your lungs. In the case of an anxiety attack, what makes breathing difficult is hyperventilation, with breathing that is too fast.
However, it is in the psychological symptoms where you can make sure that it is an anxiety attack and not a cardiovascular problem. The feeling of loss of control, of losing your sanity does not occur when you have a heart attack. Although here you have to be careful, since the fear of dying is common in both aids and fear can surround all your thoughts and nullify any reasoning.
Recommendations if you have doubts
There are situations in which doubt is inevitable and there is no reason to take risks. People who have an anxiety and have experienced panic attacks more than once already know what it is, but the fear is the same as the first time and it is okay to seek medical help.
Whether you think it is an anxiety attack or a heart attack, do not go to the emergency room on your own, neither by car, or by taxi, or on foot. Do not hesitate to call 911 so that they attend to you as soon as possible. You can also ask a family member or close person for help, but as accompaniment during those moments, let the medical professionals be in charge of determining if it is an anxiety problem or a heart attack.
And, of course, we are not going to ask you to remain calm, because in those moments it is complicated. Hence the need to dial the emergency number and let them take care of everything. Remember: the sooner you act, the sooner you will be safe!