Panic Attack Or Heart Attack?

“A panic attack?” I spat at the young nurse, (not literally, it’s an expression… What’s wrong with you)!
He nodded and gave me a stack of leaflets. “You said you’ve recently been diagnosed with anxiety? So it was most likely a panic attack, and I wouldn’t advise any tests at this time.” My hands were shaking as I stuffed the leaflets into my jeans. An hour ago, I thought I was going to die from some kind of heart explosion, and now I was being told that there was nothing anyone could do, because; “it’s psychological.” A great turn out for the books that is.
I went home and cried… actually, I went home and cried in the bath with leftover Christmas wine. How could something that aggressive be psychological? It was like finding out that Santa didn’t exist, or the Tooth Fairy. WHAT NEXT?!

At the time, I thought I was having a heart attack. However, I now understand that this is a common belief during a panic attack. The pounding heart and chest pain are convincing dupes for a more sinister condition. In this week’s blog post I’d like to help readers differentiate between the two.

Based on research, this is what I found.

Differences between a heart attack and a panic attack
(Disclaimer. I am NOT a doctor, nor do I have a medical qualification. The below is based on research and lived experience).

  • Panic attacks produce more ‘body-wide’ symptoms than a heart attack. E.g. You feel like a thousand things are happening at once; Heart palpitations, difficulty breathing…. but also, sweating, dry mouth, heavy limbs, nausea, stomach cramps.
  • People don’t actually faint during a panic attack. They might feel faint, but they don’t actually faint. Whereas people CAN faint during a heart attack.
  • The pain during a heart attack is constant and more constricted. It starts in the chest, stomach or lower back areas and can sometimes move down the left arm. Whereas ‘tingles’ is more associated with panic and can spread to every limb.
  • A heart attack DOESN’T strictly affect a person’s breathing. Hyperventilating is more associated with panic. That’s a comfort to me when I have a night panic attack, and wake up gasping for air. “Don’t worry Claire, if you can’t breathe, it’s not a heart attack!” (Obviously, I’m being sarcastic).
    If a scientist currently in possession of a lot of money is reading this, PLEASE FIND A CURE!
  • A panic attack tends to come in waves. It rises and falls. Whereas, the symptoms of a heart attack remain constant.
  • With heart attacks, the pain normally occurs during movement, whereas for panic, it mainly occurs when resting. Think excessive adrenaline that needs to be released. Hence, why exercise can be helpful. (This also explains why I’ve been known to do star jumps at 3 am. They help).

As with all medical concerns, I would always recommend airing on the side of safety. If you’re truly worried, ring 999. END OF.
With panic, you will eventually come to recognise the symptoms yourself, which is a comfort. Trust me, they CAN be managed with practice and self-kindness.

For more information on panic attacks, read my post HERE. You may also find THIS video useful.



  1. mary pat kane
    25 September 2018 / 12:09 am

    i just saw your piece on, i think, a medical site, mayo??? it was a horrid, upsetting, wonderfully told story about your workdays. i will love to follow you. i deal more with depression than anxiety. i am a writer also (hmmm?)

  2. Tony
    27 January 2019 / 2:48 am

    Thanks heaps for this explanation about the difference between heart attacks and panic attacks. I went to the doctors the other day and told him of my pains in the chest and he said its just anxiety. You would know clearly when your having a heart attack the pain or pressure on your chest would be so heavy.

    I’m still left unconvinced. Needless to say I subscribed to the ambulance service the very next day.

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