Panic attack or heart attack?

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Difficulty breathing, pounding heart, chest or stomach pain, and fear are all symptoms of a heart attack. They’re also symptoms of a panic attack.

The difference is a panic attack, while scary and something to avoid, isn’t life threatening. So how do you know if you should go to the emergency room?

If in doubt, call 911. It’s difficult to discern between the two without medical tests. The symptoms can also indicate other serious conditions such as blood clots in the lungs or a lung collapse. If it is a heart attack, a pulmonary embolus, or a collapsed lung, speedy care can save lives.

Particularly, if you’re over 40, have risk factors for heart disease, or don’t have a history of panic attacks, go to the hospital. Risk factors for heart disease include:

  • High-blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking

If you’re prone to panic attacks and your symptoms feel familiar, you can try taking steps to calm yourself. Stressful situations can bring a panic attack on. Sit or lie down and try to slow your breathing. Take long, gentle breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Panic attacks usually subside within 60 minutes.

If it feels different from previous panic attacks or your conditions worsen or persist, go to an emergency room.

Your primary care doctor can help if you experience frequent panic attacks or anxiety. Sudden feelings of terror when there is no danger, or a loss of control are common signs. Panic attacks can lead to a fear that they will happen again. In extreme cases, people avoid leaving the home. Most people get better with treatment such as talk therapy or medication.

Your Premera health plan comes with behavioral health benefits. Learn more about mental healthcare providers and treatment options. 

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