Most people suffer from a certain amount of anxiety. The problem lies in how the body reacts to this anxiety. When we face too much of this common feeling or emotion, it can elicit some undesirable, sometimes debilitating symptoms that lead to what is often referred to as a panic attack. Unfortunately, many of these symptoms can be confused with the serious medical emergency of a heart attack, which can exacerbate the panic a person is already feeling. So, what is the difference between anxiety and a heart attack?
Increased Heart Rate
This particular symptom is one that can be shared by both a panic attack brought on by anxiety and a heart attack brought on by some existing health condition. Both can manifest as a change in a person's heart rate, moving from a fairly normal, consistent rate to one that is rapid, almost racing in its rhythm. It may even cause the heart to be at an irregular rate.
After the increase or irregularity in the rate of a person's heartbeat, both conditions may also bring about a certain amount of chest pain. However, a panic attack brought on by anxiety will usually find this pain isolated to the chest. A heart attack will produce this chest pain, but it will most likely feel heavier, with a bit more pressure, and move into other areas of the body, creating discomfort in the arm, back, throat and/or jaw.
Shortness of Breath
Many times a person suffering from either an anxiety-induced panic attack or a health-related heart attack will experience a shortness of breath. This will often feel as if you are unable to catch your breath; sometimes it may feel as if you're hyperventilating. From there, you may begin to feel a certain sense of dizziness or lightheadedness; you may become weak or feel close to fainting.
Both conditions may also prompt a person to begin to sweat, without any sort of physical exertion. However, a panic attack brought on by anxiety may also bring on chills with this perspiration. A heart attack will usually bring with it a sense of nausea and even vomiting.
Either condition can prompt a person to feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety, which stands to reason, since your body is reacting in such an intense way. But a panic attack will generally take this feeling beyond just the anxiety itself. You may begin to feel out of control, terrified or even as if you'll die on the spot. This doesn't mean that someone who is having a heart attack won't feel scared or as if he is going to die. It's a thin line between the two.
This rather distinct symptom is what can set the two conditions apart. Frequently, a person who is suffering a heart attack, not a panic attack, will feel something that is often described as heartburn or indigestion, even when you've had nothing to eat. You may feel as if you are full, so full that it may seem as if it is choking you.
Another factor that will set the two conditions apart is the length of time in which the symptoms take place. An anxiety attack will typically last for a limited amount of time, right around ten minutes, and can lessen when a person take a moment to relax. A heart attack, on the other hand, will see these symptoms stretching over a longer period of time, usually half an hour or longer. These symptoms will not change when a person tries to relax.