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The 5 differences between anxiety and heart problems

The 5 differences between anxiety and heart problems

July 14, 2024

"I had the feeling that I was having a heart attack" . It is very common to hear this phrase said to those people who have suffered a panic attack for the first time.

And the truth is that it makes sense to think such a thing, since the symptoms are easily confused: in both cases is observed among other symptoms somatic activation, tingling, pain in the chest, tachycardia and choking. But there are differences that can help us determine if what happens to us in just the product of anxiety or we are facing a real heart problem. In this article we are going to observe some of the differences between both problems .

  • Related article: "The 7 types of anxiety (causes and symptoms)"

Symptoms in common

In order to establish the differences between anxiety and heart problems we should first consider what each term refers to.


1. Anxiety

Anxiety is a state of restlessness, subjective discomfort of variable degree which occurs as a general rule in anticipation of a possible stimulus, scenario or future situation. In some people, a very high level of anxiety may end up causing one of the so-called anxiety or panic attacks.

In these situations a high level of suffering and discomfort suddenly appears in which there is usually tachycardia, pain in the chest or other areas of the body, sweating, tremors, feeling of suffocation, tingling, dissociative symptoms such as derealization or depersonalization , daze and thoughts about the possibility of losing control or dying, often believing that a heart attack is being suffered. It is a very common phenomenon that does not have to be circumscribed to a disorder (in fact, technically most of us will have at least one throughout our life), which originates due to a hyperactivation of the limbic system that generates its the hyperactivation of the sympathetic nervous system.


2. Heart problems

With regard to heart problems, there are a lot of possible alterations that could be taken into account to cause similar symptoms , but the most usual thing is to consider the existence of chest angina or a heart attack. The most common symptoms include chest pain, dizziness, fatigue and shortness of breath, often preceded in the case of the man with pain and numbness in his right arm.

In women, the symptoms are more easily confused with anxiety, as the pain is usually not so localized in the right arm but more generally. The causes are usually found in the presence of obstructions to the circulatory flow, usually in the arteries.

Main differences between anxiety and heart problems

Next we will observe some of the main elements that allow us to differentiate between anxiety and heart problem. However, it must be borne in mind that these are general differences, and in many cases it is necessary to perform an electrocardiogram and / or other tests to confirm the presence or absence of cardiac damage.


1. Type and locations of pain

People who have a heart attack, the main cardiac problem with which the anxiety crisis is confused , they report having felt an oppressive type of pain that occurs in the chest, neck and back, and in the case of men in the left arm. We feel as if we are being crushed, and it usually gets worse with the effort.

In anxiety, however, the pain is described as stabbing, as if something were stuck in our chest. In addition to this area, pain can appear in any part of the body, and unlike in heart disorders, it is not linked to the effort we are making.

2. Duration of symptoms

The symptoms of a panic or anxiety crisis tend to last a few minutes , although in some cases it can be extended. There are several considerations in this regard, but usually tend to last a maximum of ten to fifteen minutes.

In the case of the presence of cardiac damage or infarction, what the pain tends to last a long time and if it disappears it usually reappears in a short time .

Obviously this does not mean that before the emergence of symptoms we have to wait to see how long they last, since in case of a heart attack, excessive waiting could be fatal. It is necessary to go to a medical center as quickly as possible.

3. Respiratory alterations

One of the main differences that can allow us to distinguish between a heart problem and anxiety is linked to the presence or absence of respiratory alterations . In the anxiety it is very common the presence of hyperventilations and sensation of drowning, something that is not usual in a heart attack.

In heart problems, breathing usually continues to function normally or there is a difficulty in carrying it out, without it accelerating unless the heart attack itself causes the simultaneous appearance of anxiety.

4. Paresthesias and numbness

Another feature that is usually distinctive in both problems is hemiparesis or tingling . (More information on hemiparesis). In anxiety it is common that we find ourselves with certain numbness and tingling of arms and legs accompanied by sudden punctures. However, in a real heart attack there tends to be a uniform and unchanging numbness, often only on the left side of the body.

5. Feeling of loss of control

As a general rule, unless the heart condition itself generates an anxiety crisis in the sufferer, the subject who suffers a heart attack does not tend to have any kind of loss of behavioral control .

In the anxiety on the contrary it is frequent that the subject has feelings of strangeness and dissociative symptoms such as derealization, as well as the feeling that he can not control his own body and emotions. The thought that he may be going crazy is also frequent.


Heart Attack vs. Panic Attack (July 2024).


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