Heart Attack or Panic Attack? How to Tell the Difference

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STORY AT-A-GLANCE

  • What may look and feel like an apparent heart attack may actually be a panic attack, and according to researchers, the cost of misdiagnosing non-cardiac chest pain is high
  • When a heart attack starts, blood flow to your heart has suddenly become blocked and the muscle can’t get oxygen. If not treated quickly, the muscle fails to pump and begins to die
  • A panic attack typically comes on abruptly, producing intense fear and a sense of impending doom that is typically severely disproportionate to the situation at hand. Panic attacks tend to peak within 10 minutes, and most subside within 30 minutes
  • The chest pain associated with a heart attack will typically start as a feeling of pressure, fullness or aching that escalates, reaching maximum severity after a few minutes, whereas the pain associated with a panic attack tends to be sharp and stabbing in the center of the chest, typically lasting only five to 10 seconds
  • Whereas panic-associated pain is localized in one small area of the chest, heart attack symptoms typically include pain or discomfort that radiates from the chest into other areas, such as one or both arms, abdomen, back, shoulders, neck, throat or jaw

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