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Heart Attack or Panic Attack? How to Tell the Difference

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

panic attack vs heart attack

Story at-a-glance -

  • What may look and feel like an apparent heart attack may actually be a panic attack, and according to researchers, the cost of misdiagnosing non-cardiac chest pain is high
  • When a heart attack starts, blood flow to your heart has suddenly become blocked and the muscle can't get oxygen. If not treated quickly, the muscle fails to pump and begins to die
  • A panic attack typically comes on abruptly, producing intense fear and a sense of impending doom that is typically severely disproportionate to the situation at hand. Panic attacks tend to peak within 10 minutes, and most subside within 30 minutes
  • The chest pain associated with a heart attack will typically start as a feeling of pressure, fullness or aching that escalates, reaching maximum severity after a few minutes, whereas the pain associated with a panic attack tends to be sharp and stabbing in the center of the chest, typically lasting only five to 10 seconds
  • Whereas panic-associated pain is localized in one small area of the chest, heart attack symptoms typically include pain or discomfort that radiates from the chest into other areas, such as one or both arms, abdomen, back, shoulders, neck, throat or jaw

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 805,000 Americans have a heart attack each year, and 605,000 are first heart attacks. Knowing the risk factors, symptoms and how to take early action will increase your chances of survival.

However, what may look and feel like an apparent heart attack may actually be a panic attack, and according to researchers, the cost of misdiagnosing noncardiac chest pain is high. "It is important for physicians to be able to recognize panic attacks and to distinguish them from cardiac disease, thus avoiding unnecessary use of health care resources," one report states.


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