What can make an anxiety attack even more frightening than it already is, is when you aren't sure if you're actually having a heart attack or a panic attack as the symptoms are surprisingly similar: You feel a pain in your chest, you have trouble breathing and you suddenly start to feel pale and clammy.
Distinguishing between the two can be difficult, especially if you’ve never experienced either, according to William Meurer, M.D., of the University of Michigan Health System Emergency Department. “There’s an overlap in symptoms associated with heart attack and panic attack.”
If you are having a panic attack, simply being aware that it ISN'T a heart attack can help ease the symptoms so it passes quicker. Of course, if you really are having a heart attack, knowing what it is can help ensure you get help quicker.
If you’re experiencing something that is similar to an incident you’ve had in the past that turned out to be stress-related, Meurer advises practicing deep breathing or meditation to see if the symptoms subside. “If they don’t, seek medical help,” he says.
Here's what to look for in order to tell the difference.
Anxiety attack symptoms:
- Increased heart rate
- Sharp or stabbing chest pain that lasts only 5 to 10 seconds
- Pain that is localized to one small area
- Pain that usually occurs at rest
- Pain that accompanies anxiety
- Pain that is relieved or worsened when you change positions
- Pain that can be reproduced or worsened by pressing over the area of pain
Heart attack symptoms:
- Escalating chest pain that reaches maximum severity after a few minutes
- Constant pain, pressure, fullness or aching in the chest area
- Pain or discomfort that travels or radiates from the chest to other areas, such as one or both arms, abdomen, back, shoulders, neck, throat or jaw
- Pain that is brought on by exertion
- Shortness of breath