Can a panic attack cause a heart attack? Panic attacks and heart attacks share some of the same symptoms and sometimes people go to the emergency room because they think they are having a heart attack but are actually only having a panic attack.
People will still go to an emergency room when they know they are having a panic attack because they fear the panic attack will trigger a heart attack.
So the question remains. Can a panic attack cause a heart attack?
The simple answer is "No" if you do not already have an existing heart condition and "Yes" if you do have an existing heart condition.
If you are already at risk for a heart attack, then anything that causes your heart to beat faster, increases your blood pressure, causes the formation of blood clots, constricts blood vessels, or causes quick bursts of inflammation can cause a heart attack.
Since a panic attack causes your heart to beat faster and increases your blood pressure then "Yes" a panic attack could possibly cause a heart attack but so can any one of these situations:
Waking from sleep
Lack of sleep
Heavy physical exertion
Natural disasters and war
Cold or hot Weather
Having a cold or the flu
Eating a big fatty meal
Other causes: Grief reactions, increased stress, cocaine and other drugs, holidays, and if your sports team loses.
What are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?
Chest pain and pressure
Squeezing and the feeling of fullness in the chest
Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, shoulders, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
Pain between the shoulder blades
Shortness of breath
Feeling light headed
What are the Symptoms of a Panic Attack?
Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
Trembling or shaking
Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
Feelings of choking
Chest pain or discomfort
Nausea or abdominal distress
Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
Chills or heat sensations
Numbness or tingling sensations
De-realization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
Fear of losing control or “going crazy”Fear of dying
What Causes Heart Attacks?
A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart. This causes significant damage to a part of the heart and causes feelings of achy pain and squeezing pressure in the chest.
Heart attacks are mainly due to coronary artery disease.
Over time, your coronary arteries can narrow and become blocked from the buildup of various plaques, such as cholesterol. This interrupts the flow of blood to the heart. Starved for oxygen, the heart becomes damaged and slowly or quickly stops pumping blood.
Coronary artery disease develops slowly over time beginning in childhood.
Risk factors include high LDL (Bad) cholesterol, low HDL (Good) cholesterol, high blood pressure, family history, diabetes, smoking, being post-menopausal, and age 45 and older for men. Poor diet and obesity are also risk factors.
What is the Connection Between Anxiety and Heart Attacks?
Research has suggested that over time chronic stress and anxiety could add to the development and/or the progression of coronary artery disease (Christopher M. Celano, M.D., Daniel J. Daunis, M.D., et. al.) but the evidence is somewhat weak.
It has been suggested that Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder may be linked to cardiac disease due to poor health behaviors and the dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system.
Those who experience anxiety may have poor health behaviors and may not maintain a healthy diet, may not exercise, and may not follow up with healthcare providers.
Part of the autonomic nervous system is the sympathetic nervous system responsible for the fight or flight stress response. The fight or flight stress response is continually activated by generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.
The stress hormones associated with the fight or flight response (cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine) may add to the development and progression of heart disease by increasing inflammation and the clumping together of platelets in the blood that could lead to the formation of a blood clot.
How can you tell the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack?
What Can You Do?
Do get regular checkups with your doctor to monitor your health and rule out any heart condition.
Do seek the help of a mental health professional if you are suffering from anxiety and/or are having panic attacks.
For more information:
How to stop panic attacks:
How to Stop A Panic Attack: 7 Steps
What To Do In A Panic Attack: 4 Great Ways to Cope Panic Attacks In Children - How To Help Your Child
Please purchase my book “Attacking Panic: The Power to Be Calm” for more in depth information on how to stop panic attacks quickly and how to treat the root cause (Amygdala/Sympathetic Nervous System). The book shows you how to go beyond just giving up control and allowing yourself to experience a panic attack. The book has more powerful strategies that will short-circuit your fight or flight system, stop a panic attack very quickly, and even prevent a panic attack from occurring.