Your heart is racing and you feel a sharp pain in your chest. Are you having a heart attack or a panic attack? It can be confusing to notice the difference between the two since they both have similar symptoms. Overwhelming chest pain, sweating, heavy and irregular breathing, a strange puncture and nausea are some of the symptoms common to both conditions. To make matters worse, the fact that a heart attack can induce panic adds to the confusion and leads people to think that they are probably only facing a panic attack when the condition is much more dangerous.
Fortunately, despite the deceptive similarity between the two, one can still learn to distinguish between a heart attack and a panic attack effectively. Since any of these situations can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere, it is vital that you know the difference so you can help the patient as accurately as possible. First, let’s take a look at what a heart attack is and how to recognize it.
What Happens in a Heart Attack?
“The muscles of the heart need a constant flow of oxygen-rich blood to feed”.
The coronary arteries are crucial because they are responsible for providing the heart with this critical blood supply. If you have coronary artery disease, it means that your arteries will narrow and the blood can no longer flow as well as it should. As a result, it will have fat, protein, calcium and inflammatory cells that accumulate along the walls of the arteries to form plaque deposits of various sizes that are hard on the outside but soft on the inside. When the plaque deposit is hard, the outer shell eventually cracks (also known as plaque rupture in medical terms). This causes platelets (tiny disk-shaped particles in the blood that trigger blood clotting) to enter this area, causing blood clots to form around the plaque. If one of these blood clots ends up blocking the artery completely, the heart muscle dies due to lack of oxygen. Within a short period of time, the heart muscle will eventually die, and this is what is called a heart attack.
How to Recognize a Heart Attack?
Here are some useful tips to diagnose a heart attack.
- As a general rule, pain will always appear in the center of the chest and may eventually move down along the left arm and along the back.
- The pain can also spread to the areas of the neck, teeth and jaws.
- The intensity of pain may change. Usually, the pain lasts much more than five minutes, but does not affect the person’s breathing.
- It is also common to feel a stinging sensation during a heart attack. It is almost always limited to the left arm. Very often, this will be accompanied by a cold and sticky sweat and feeling nauseous. You can even vomit.
- When a heart attack peaks, people experience a fear that focuses exclusively on the sensation of chest pain. This leads them to believe that they could die, thus inducing fear and anxiety.
- As a general rule, in addition to the above, the individual will also experience rapid breathing, apart from certain cases in which the heart attack triggers a panic attack.
What Happens in a Panic Attack?
A panic attack occurs when your body suddenly floods with adrenaline at a time that apparently makes no sense. It may be when faced with a deep fear of something completely inexplicable and irrational, such as driving along the edge of a cliff, while sitting safely on a sofa in your living room. Once all that adrenaline is released, your body goes into fighting mode. So the next thing your body does is prepare for a fight. This decision made by his body is the root cause of a series of undesirable events that lead to a great panic attack. Almost immediately, your body will resort to one of the main survival methods, that is, increasing the heart rate so that more oxygen-rich blood can be supplied to the muscles and limbs for excess energy. This explains why people prone to panic attacks often report a tapping through the chest as if it were about to explode. At the same time, the sudden and instantaneous increase in blood stimulates the nervous system to increase the reaction time. In the case of a panic attack, it will trigger an uncontrollable tremor in your limbs.
The sudden rush of adrenaline and the increase in heart rate will also cause it to perspire profusely. To further increase your problems, you will also find it extremely difficult to catch your breath. The increase in heart rate, along with the strong flow of blood to the extremities, will cause a greater demand for oxygen to keep all that blood well oxygenated. This is what is responsible for causing a shortness of breath. In an attempt to drive more oxygen into your bloodstream, you will begin to hyperventilate which leads to dizziness and disorientation. You end up exhaling so much carbon dioxide that your brain loses control to maintain that fine balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen. As a result, you will start taking an oxygen overdose, causing dizziness. Very often, this even distorts the way your brain perceives things, which makes you begin to believe and feel that the world is beginning to approach you.
How to Recognize a Panic Attack?
Here are some useful tips to diagnose a panic attack.
- It is possible that a panic attack will hit you even in the most common circumstances.
- The pain is mainly concentrated around the thoracic region and will continue to increase and decrease.
- As in the case of a heart attack, a puncture sensation along with a numb feeling can occur during a panic attack. However, this is not limited to the left arm, but may also appear on the right arm, fingers and legs.
- When suffering from panic attacks, people experience irrational fears, for example, the fear of being suffocated or going crazy.
What to do in Case of a Heart Attack or Panic?
If you cannot determine if you are experiencing a panic attack or a heart attack, see a doctor immediately. Waiting is not the best solution in any case. If it turns out that you or someone else is having a heart attack, it could lead to death if you do not receive or seek immediate medical help. If you or anyone else has the above symptoms for more than 4 to 5 minutes, call an ambulance without further delay. If that is not possible, ask someone to take you or the patient to the nearest hospital as soon as possible.
In the case of a panic attack, the lack of medical support can worsen the symptoms and lead to an increase in the frequency of the attacks. The timely examination and dedicated attention of a specialist could dramatically help improve not only the quality of your life, but also your life expectancy.