Heart Attack vs. Panic Attack: A Definite Difference

Pain in your chest. Sweating. Breathing differently than usual. Do you go to the Emergency Department or wait it out? Heart attack vs. panic attack is a real concern.

Both are scary events, but one is much more serious for your health than the other. If you’re having a heart attack, it’s imperative you get to the hospital and get whatever underlying cause is there taken care of. If you’re having a panic attack, you can wait and get to an appropriate professional later.

Regardless of which you’re having, if you can’t tell or don’t know the difference, play it safe. Get to the nearest hospital and let them sort it out. Better to be embarrassed by finding out you’re not having a heart attack than to risk long-lasting health issues.

Heart Attack vs. Panic Attack: Different Symptoms

The symptoms of heart attack and panic are similar, but there are some very significant differences. Educating yourself on these differences may help you in case you ever fall prey to one or the other.

Chest Pain

Both heart attack and panic attack typically involve chest pain. This pain that is experienced during a heart attack may be triggered by some kind of exercise. It is centered on the middle of your chest and is typically experienced as if some great weight is pushing down on your chest. It is usually continuous and can spread to your left arm, your jaw, and even your back. It goes on for fifteen minutes or so, and may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Pain from a heart attack is caused by a blockage of blood flow to the muscles of the heart.

Chest pain can also come with a panic attack. It’s not usually triggered by exercise, but can come on “out of the blue.” The pain is different in quality from that in a heart attack; it’s usually a sharp pain and not the crushing kind. Also, it’s not typically ongoing, but comes and goes. This pain only usually lasts for about three to maybe five minutes. And this pain is not brought on by something wrong with your heart. Typically, it’s brought on by your breathing. In panic attacks, you tend to breathe in short pants, a lot like dogs do when they’re hot. This brings on changes in your body chemistry and leads to sharp pains over your heart. So, the problem with the chest pains felt in panic attacks is something in your psychology, not in your physiology.

The great majority of the time, this pain with a panic attack will not lead to nausea and vomiting, either.

At times, people wonder whether a panic attack will bring on a heart attack. The answer is usually no. However, if you have previously had a heart attack, it is best to check with your physician to determine if there are some symptoms that will tell you if this is a heart attack vs. panic attack. Let the professionals make the decision.

Some recent research has suggested that those who have experienced panic attacks before the age of 50 are more likely to develop heart disease or have a heart attack. More research needs to be done before claiming this to be a certainty, however.

Onset of Symptoms

The onset of symptoms gives you another clue to the mystery of heart attack vs. panic attack. Once you begin having symptoms, think back a few days. What were you doing? If exercise, moderate or strenuous, was involved, the likelihood of your symptoms being related to a heart attack increases. The chest pain with a heart attack usually subsides within ten minutes with rest. If your symptoms came up suddenly with no apparent trigger, or with an event similar to a past traumatic event, your symptoms may be more likely related to panic attack. Any pain related to anxiety won’t lessen with rest. Its duration rests with the amount of anxiety you feel.

Other bodily responses need to be monitored as well. With heart attacks, you’ll typically sweat, have trouble breathing, and get out of breath with the least amount of physical exercise. With panic attacks, you also may sweat and take those short, panting types of breaths. But you won’t be limited with regard to exercise.

With panic attacks, you may feel your hands and feet get numb or tingly. This is due to the body chemistry changes with the panting breaths. You won’t feel this with a heart attack.

The anxiety that comes with a panic attack may bring a feeling tightness in your throat or neck. Once again, this won’t occur with a heart attack.

You may feel like your legs won’t hold you up in a panic attack. Not in a heart attack.

Finding a way to calm yourself will often significantly lessen, or stop, the symptoms of a panic attack. This won’t affect your symptoms if you’re having a heart attack.

Other Considerations

Symptoms of panic attacks affect people differently. This further complicates the resolving of heart attack vs. panic attack. The problem is that panic symptoms mimic serious physical symptoms.

While heart attack and panic attack both bring fears of dying, there may be other fears that are irrational that come with panic attacks. Many people fear losing control of bowel or bladder, fear they’re going crazy, or have a fear of choking. These do not typically come with heart attack.


Any kind of pain is something that brings a certain element of fear with it. Pain that centers around the middle of the chest, or the heart area, is especially frightening. All of us have heard that pain like this along with difficulty breathing is a potentially serious thing. But should we go directly to the hospital, or is it something we can wait and see about? That’s why heart attack vs. panic attack is an important distinction to make. Education makes the difference and tells us what to do.


Am I having a panic attack or a heart attack?  https://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/ask-and-learn/ask-expert/how-can-i-tell-if-i%e2%80%99m-having-panic-attack-or-heart-atta

Heart Attack vs Panic Attack: Which am I Having?  http://myheart.net/articles/heart-attack-vs-panic-attack-which-am-i-having/