Panic attack or heart attack


Is It a Heart Attack or Panic Attack? Don’t Dismiss the Symptoms

Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute

A heart attack is a medical emergency. A panic attack isn’t. But with the overlap in symptoms, it can be tough to tell them apart. Do you trust yourself to know which is which?

You might be gambling with your life if you assume it’s not a heart attack.

“Symptoms of panic attacks can feel very similar to those of a heart attack, such as chest pain, shortness of breath and palpitations. It’s important to seek medical help if you're experiencing these symptoms, as it can be difficult to tell the difference without proper evaluation,” says cardiologist Ian Del Conde Pozzi, M.D., director of the vascular medicine program and resistant hypertension program at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.

Both panic attacks and heart attacks can come on suddenly. Panic attacks arise when stress hormones trigger the body's “fight or flight” response, often resulting in racing heart, chest tightness, lightheadedness, nausea, difficulty catching your breath, and other symptoms.

Ian Del Conde, M.D., director of the Vascular Medicine Program and the Resistant Hypertension Clinic at Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.


A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked, and one or more parts of the heart are deprived of oxygen. Cellular injury occurs due to a lack of oxygen and blood, leading to heart muscle damage. Heart attacks require emergency medical care to prevent serious complications or death.

Seek Immediate Medical Attention if There’s Any Question

Whether you are having a panic attack or a heart attack, it can be a scary experience. You should always seek immediate medical attention if there’s any question, Dr. Del Conde says. It's important not to minimize symptoms, as the situation could quickly escalate if it’s a heart attack. When uncertain, never hesitate to call 911 or head to the hospital.

“Do not be embarrassed — we are here to sort that out,” Dr. Del Conde says.

In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That adds up to about 805,000 heart attacks every year. Of these, about 75 percent are a first heart attack. About one in five heart attacks are “silent” — meaning the damage is done, but the person is not aware of it.

Heart palpitations, in which you feel like your heart is fluttering or has suddenly skipped a beat, can also be a source for concern. Palpitations can be a symptom of a panic attack; however, in some cases, palpitations are a symptom of an arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation, are serious and should not be ignored. Your physician can conduct tests to determine if they are caused by stress or underlying heart disease.

Even if everything checks out and a heart attack and other cardiac ailments are ruled out, that doesn’t mean you should dismiss worrisome episodes. 

Don’t Be Embarrassed to Get Help for Panic Attacks

“Being told you had a panic attack instead of a heart attack doesn't mean you're in the clear for heart issues. It's still essential to follow up with your healthcare provider to evaluate your heart health and address any underlying concerns,” Dr. Del Conde says.

If a medical workup shows your heart health is good, you might want to consider getting help for panic attacks or anxiety, especially if they are beginning to interfere with your daily life or ability to function. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 3 percent of U.S. adults experience panic disorder in a given year. Almost 5 percent of U.S. adults experience panic disorder at some time in their lives.

“There's no need to feel embarrassed about seeking help for a panic attack. Managing stress and seeking appropriate treatment for panic disorder can improve overall well-being,” Dr. Del Conde says. “Mental health is just as important as physical health, and healthcare professionals are there to support you without judgment.”

With treatment, patients can learn how to recognize the signs of an oncoming panic attack, learn skills to de-escalate the panic and break the anxiety cycle.

Although panic attacks generally pass in an hour or less, “Patients should be aware that panic attacks can naturally raise blood pressure temporarily,” Dr. Del Conde says. “It's essential to practice stress-reduction techniques and seek support from healthcare providers to manage anxiety and prevent potential health consequences.”

People who have untreated anxiety, depression or chronic stress may have a higher risk of heart problems. Research shows chronic stress can lead to inflammation, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, which raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.

“Regular checkups with your physician can help monitor blood pressure and assess overall cardiovascular health,” Dr. Del Conde says. “It's essential to communicate any concerns about panic attacks or heart symptoms to your healthcare provider for appropriate evaluation and management.”

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