The 5 differences between anxiety and heart problems
May 26, 2023
"I felt like I was having a heart attack". It is very common to hear this phrase from those who have suffered a panic attack for the first time.
And the truth is that it makes sense that they think such a thing, since the symptoms are easily confused: in In both cases, among other symptoms, somatic activation, tingling, chest pain, tachycardia and drowning. But there are differences that can help us determine if what happens to us is just a 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)"
In order to establish the differences between anxiety and heart problems, we should first take into account what each term refers to.
Anxiety is a state of restlessness, subjective discomfort of variable degree that occurs as a general rule in anticipation of a possible stimulus, scenario or future situation. In some people, a very high level of anxiety can end up causing one of those known as anxiety or panic attacks.
In these situations, a high level of suffering and discomfort appears suddenly, in which tachycardia, pain in the chest or other areas of the body, sweating, tremors, choking sensation, tingling, dissociative symptoms such as derealization or depersonalization, lightheadedness, and thoughts about losing control or dying, often believing that one is suffering a heart attack. This is a very common phenomenon that does not have to be limited to a disorder (in fact, technically the most of us will have at least one throughout our lives), which originates due to hyperactivation of the limbic system which in turn generates hyperactivation of the sympathetic nervous system.
2. Heart problems
When it comes to heart problems, there are a large number of possible alterations that could be taken into account to cause similar symptoms, but the most common is to consider the existence of angina or a heart attack. The most common symptoms include chest pain, dizziness, fatigue and shortness of breath, often preceded in the case of man by pain and numbness in the right arm.
In women, the symptoms are more easily confused with anxiety, since 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, generally in the arteries.
Main differences between anxiety and heart problems
Next we are going to observe some of the main elements that allow us to differentiate between anxiety and a heart problem. However, it must be taken into account that these are general differences, being in many cases necessary the performing an electrocardiogram and/or other tests to confirm the presence or absence of damage cardiac.
1. Type and locations of pain
People suffering from a heart attack, the main heart problem with which anxiety attacks are confused, refer to having felt an oppressive 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 exertion.
In anxiety, however, the pain is described as stabbing, as if something were being stabbed into our chest. In addition to this area, pain can appear anywhere in the body, and unlike cardiac disorders, it is not linked to the effort we are making.
2. Symptom Duration
The symptoms of a panic or anxiety attack tend to last a few minutes., although in some cases it can be prolonged. There are various considerations in this regard, but in general they tend to last between ten and fifteen minutes at most.
In the case of the presence of cardiac damage or heart attack, which the pain tends to last a long time and if it disappears it usually reappears after a short time.
Obviously, this does not mean that before the onset of symptoms we have to wait to see how long they last, since in the event of a heart attack, excessive waiting could be fatal. It is necessary to go to a medical center as quickly as possible.
3. respiratory disorders
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 disturbances. In anxiety, the presence of hyperventilation and a sensation of suffocation is very common, something that is not usual in a heart attack.
In heart problems, breathing usually continues to function normally or there is difficulty to carry it out, without it speeding up unless the heart attack itself causes the simultaneous onset of anxiety.
4. Paresthesias and numbness
Another characteristic that is usually distinctive in both problems is hemiparesis or tingling.. (More information on hemiparesis). In anxiety it is common for us to find some numbness and tingling in the arms and legs accompanied by sudden pricks. However, in a real heart attack there tends to be a uniform and unvaried numbness, often only on the left side of the body.
5. Feeling of loss of control
As a general rule, unless the suffering of the heart problem itself generates an anxiety crisis in the sufferer, the subject who suffers a heart attack does not tend to have any type of loss of behavioral control.
In anxiety, on the contrary, it is common for the subject to have feelings of strangeness and symptoms dissociative such as derealization, as well as the feeling that he cannot control his own body and emotions. The thought that he may be going crazy is also common.