Anxiety and Heart Attacks: The Shared Link
Anxiety and heart attacks are often linked in a person's mind because of the belief that an anxiety attack is, really, a heart attack. This is partly because the symptoms of anxiety and heart attacks are so similar. Symptoms common during a heart attack and anxiety include:
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
- Dizziness, vertigo
- Feelings of unreality
- Numbness of hands and feet
Worse yet, people having symptoms of acute severe anxiety often believe they are dying, as anxiety typically causes uncontrollable fear.
The Difference between Anxiety and a Heart Attack
However, while acute anxiety is frightening, it poses no immediate medical danger whereas a heart attack requires medical attention. In many cases, medical attention is sought for a panic attack as the sufferer believes it is a heart attack. The fact the symptoms have stemmed from anxiety may be missed by medical personnel.
Telling the difference between a heart attack and anxiety can be challenging for patients. Likely, a patient will have to discuss with their doctor which symptoms are those of a heart attack and should be treated as an emergency, while all other symptoms should be considered anxiety.
Anxiety and Fear of a Heart Attack
Whether the patient has had a previous heart attack or not, some people with anxiety are terrified of having a heart attack. This fear can make people believe that anxiety symptoms are a heart attack, even when they clearly are not. This fear may also make panic attacks more likely as the person may obsess about the fear of a heart attack.
Anxiety expert, Reid Wilson, PhD, author of Don't Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks, offers this advice to those with anxiety that fear a heart attack:1
Their first goal is to respond to their typical anxiety or panic symptoms as anxiety or panic. Their position should be to say, 'I want to recover from panic disorder strongly enough that I am willing to have a heart attack and miss it.' That is how they will confront their need to be 100 percent certain.
Can Anxiety Cause a Heart Attack?
All that being said, there is some research suggesting those with anxiety are at increased risk for heart attack or heart disease. In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, anxious, middle-aged men of good health were 30% - 40% more likely to suffer a heart attack than less anxious men.2 People under 50 with panic disorder may also have an increased risk of heart attack.
It is not known if anxiety causes a heart attack or if there are other factors at play, but getting control over the symptoms of anxiety may reduce the risk of heart problems.
Tracy, N. (2021, December 20). Anxiety and Heart Attacks: The Shared Link, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, March 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/anxiety-panic/anxiety-information/anxiety-and-heart-attacks-the-shared-link