The human body is really good at signaling when something is wrong. Unfortunately, it's not very good at diagnosing itself. In fact, many of the signals it sends are virtually the same for a wide variety of conditions. And we tend to minimize our symptoms. So, if your body is telegraphing chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea and lightheadedness, you may be inclined to chalk it up to stress or anxiety. Chances are, you'll rule out anything more serious despite the fact that these can also be symptoms of a heart attack. So how can you tell if you're having a panic or heart attack? Knowing the difference and acting fast could save your life.
Panic or heart attack? Maximizing your symptoms.
If you've never had a panic attack or heart attack and aren't being treated for heart disease, it can be nearly impossible to differentiate between the two. Overlapping symptoms can include:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Anxiety or fear of impending doom
- Racing, pounding or fluttering heart
- Breathing difficulties; shortness of breath
- Sweating or chills
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Nausea or vomiting
If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
With a heart attack, minutes equal muscle. In other words, the chances of saving precious heart muscle decrease with every minute that it takes to be diagnosed and treated. Don't wait more than 5 minutes to call.
Recognizing and acknowledging your symptoms can help you minimize the damage caused by a heart attack.
Additional heart attack clues.
If you have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, you already know that you should take the symptoms listed above seriously and call for help. But if you don't have a diagnosis or haven't had a heart attack, there are additional symptoms that often accompany a heart attack but typically not a panic attack. They include:
- Pain in one or both arms
- Pain in the jaw, back, shoulders, neck or upper abdomen (often more common in women)
Additional panic attack clues.
These additional symptoms of an anxiety attack may help you tell whether you are having a panic or heart attack.
- Sudden feelings of terror for no reason
- Shaking or trembling
- Abdominal cramping
- An urge to flee
- Feelings of unreality or being detached from your body
If you've suffered from anxiety before and this feels similar to a past panic attack that turned out to be stress-related, try some deep breathing exercises or meditation to see if your symptoms ease. If they don't, get medical help right away.
When you're not sure if it's a panic or heart attack, one of our many Medical City ER locations across North Texas has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.
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