How To Tell A Panic Attack From A Heart Attack

Knowing how to tell a panic attack from a heart attack means the difference between a wasted hospital trip and getting the needed life saving interventions. With some similar symptoms it can often be difficult to tell a panic attack from a heart attack. Many people who suffer from panic attacks often think they are having a heart attack when they are not. However, it is especially important for those who suffer panic attacks to know the difference in order to seek the necessary help in the event of a true heart attack.

Similar symptoms of a panic attack and a heart attack:

  • Increased adrenaline as body initiates the natural fight or flight response
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Abnormal heartbeat or palpitations
  • Abrupt and intense onset 

How to tell the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack:


  1. Chest pain from a panic attack is often minor and felt with the rapid pounding of the heart. Chest pain from a heart attack is more severe and presents itself as a heavy, crushing pain that is continuous.
  2. Numbness and tingling in the extremities is normal during a panic attack and does not come as a result of chest pain. Pain beginning in the chest and spreading to the arm, jaw, neck or between shoulder blades is characteristic of a heart attack.
  3. Nausea is common with a panic attack however vomiting is not. Nausea with vomiting is symptomatic of a heart attack.
  4. Panic attacks come about abruptly and intensely without warning. A heart attack may also, however according to the American Heart Association, most heart attacks begin slowly with mild symptoms which gradually increase
  5. A panic attack can last anywhere from several seconds to half an hour. Pain from a heart attack may last up to 12 hours.
  6. When in doubt, experience symptoms that worsen or are not relieved in a short period of time, call 9-1-1 and seek medical attention immediately.
  7. Do not wait more than 5 minutes to call 9-1-1 anytime you think you are having a heart attack, as suggested by the American Heart Association.

The American Heart Association website has further information on heart attack warning signs, treatment and prevention methods.

American Heart Association

*The information in this article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for seeking medical attention from a qualified medical professional.

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