Panic attacks are often accompanied by chest pain. In fact, chest pain is one of the most common symptoms of a panic attack. If you think you are experiencing a panic attack, it can be helpful to know the difference between the symptoms of a panic attack and the symptoms of a heart attack.
Panic Attacks Explained
A panic attack is an intense episode of fear that provokes severe responses in your body. A panic attack can happen at any time. A person having a panic attack might feel as if his heart is racing. In addition, he might be dizzy, nauseated and could even think he is dying. Panic attacks are more common in women than in men, and they affect almost 2.5 million Americans.
Panic attacks can be severely disabling to a person, but they are usually treatable. Although many people will experience some type of panic attack at some point in their lives, people who have panic attacks on a regular basis are characterized as having panic disorder.
Panic Attack Causes
Panic attacks can be caused by a number of things or by a combination of factors. Some causes of panic attacks include:
- a family history of panic attacks or panic disorder
- brain abnormalities
- major stressful events or life transitions
- substance abuse.
Many doctors feel that panic attacks trigger your body’s natural fight-or-flight response, which occurs when you instinctively react to something dangerous.
Panic Attack Symptoms
Symptoms of panic attack can run the gamut, from abdominal cramping to trembling and shaking. In addition, not everyone experiencing a panic attack will exhibit all of the symptoms associated with panic attack. You are likely having a panic attack if you have at least four or more of the following symptoms:
- abdominal cramping
- chest pain
- chills and/or hot flashes
- choking or smothering sensations
- difficulty breathing
- dizziness, feeling faint
- fears that you are about to die or lose control
- feelings of being detached from yourself
- intense terror
- nausea, stomach ache
- pounding or racing heart
- tingling in fingers/toes
In general, symptoms will develop very quickly and peak within 10 minutes.
One of the major symptoms of panic attacks is the fear of having more of them in the future. This usually causes people to avoid things that they associate with panic attacks, such as places or situations. People do this in an attempt to avoid experiencing panic attack symptoms again.
Treatment for panic attacks includes therapy, medication and relaxation techniques. These approaches are usually very effective in helping people control and prevent future panic attacks.
The symptoms of a panic attack can be similar to those of a heart attack. Some of the most common symptoms of a heart attack include:
- chest pain that comes with sweating, dizziness, shortness of breath or nausea
- pain that spreads to the neck, back, jaw, shoulders and especially the left arm
- sudden tightness, pressure, squeezing or crushing pain that is in the center of the chest continues
- tightening of the chest or chest pressure during physical activity or stressful situations.
The best thing to do if you think you are having a heart attack is to seek medical attention. Even if you are diagnosed with having a panic attack rather than a heart attack, panic attacks should not be taken lightly and should be treated. It is always a good idea to see your doctor if you think you have a serious health concern.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (n.d.). Panic Attacks. Retrieved November 19, 2007, from the Mayoclinic.com Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/panic-attacks/DS00338.