Am I Having a Heart Attack or a Panic Attack?

Picture this: you are having a normal day, until something shocking happens. Maybe you watch a scary movie or get some surprising news. Your heart starts racing, you feel dizzy, nauseous, and you start sweating. You think you are having a heart attack, but when you go to the emergency room, they tell you it is a panic attack. Why did this happen? How does someone confuse a panic attack for a heart attack?

Both conditions have similar symptoms, so it is no wonder some people get them confused. Read on to find out how to differentiate between the two.

Heart Attack

A heart attack is a heart condition in which blood flow to the heart is severely reduced or completely cut off. This is due to buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other things in the coronary arteries which supply the heart with blood. Sometimes, people know that they are likely to have a heart attack, but there are people who get heart attacks randomly, and this is caused by a failure of the heart muscles. This muscle failure is often caused by lack of oxygen in the heart, and sometimes, this can be a condition that comes without warning.

Symptoms of a heart attack vary by person, but in general they include:

  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain in other areas of the upper body, such as the jaw

Panic Attack

A panic attack is an intense wave of fear that triggers several responses in the body. Panic attacks begin abruptly, with symptoms reaching their peak within 10 minutes and ending within 30 minutes of onset. There are no warning signs for panic attacks and they can happen while you are driving, at work, at the store, or while you are just sitting at home.

Panic attack symptoms include:

  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Fear of dying

As you can see, the signs and symptoms for both of these conditions are very similar, so it is not far-fetched for a person who is suffering from a panic attack to think they are having a heart attack. When you are experiencing those symptoms, it becomes difficult to objectively assess if you are having a panic attack or a heart attack. So how can you differentiate between the two?

A person having a heart attack will not experience numbness or tingling sensations and could potentially have radiating pain to the jaw or the arm. A person suffering from a panic attack will have feelings of detachments, while a person having a heart attack will not. A person having a heart attack will also experience chest pain that escalates in severity, but a person having a panic attack will have chest pain that only lasts 5 to 10 seconds. Finally, a person having a panic attack will have a fear of dying and dizziness or nausea, while a person having a heart attack will not experience these symptoms. Although they have similar symptoms, heart attacks and panic attacks have key differences that can help a person distinguish between the two and get appropriate help.

If you think you are having a heart attack, seek medical attention. Whether someone is suffering from heart attack or a panic attack, Concho Valley ER is a fully-equipped emergency room dedicated to providing concierge-level care to all patients. We are here 24/7, 365 days a year and are able to stabilize critical conditions like a heart attack.


This blog is written by Marian Flores, staff member at Nutex Health.

Nutex Health, Inc. supports you and your family’s health. Come visit Concho Valley ER or any one of our concierge-level freestanding facilities for the emergency care you deserve, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

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