Call the Doctor, or Not? How to Tell a Panic Attack from a Heart Attack?

Panic attacks are a form of anxiety, but unlike other anxiety disorders, panic attacks are notorious for their physical symptoms. In fact, the physical symptoms of panic attacks tend to be so strong that they feel nearly exactly like heart attacks. Even doctors have trouble telling the difference.

Since heart attacks are clearly more dangerous than panic attacks, it's important to know the difference. Only a doctor can diagnose what's going on with your health, but there are still several signs and tips to understand whether or not what you're suffering from is a panic attack or heart attack.

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The Difference Between Panic Attacks and Heart Attacks

The two are so similar in symptoms that doctors often simply use the process of elimination to discover what you have. You should also consider taking my free 7 minute anxiety test to see if it seems like you have anxiety.

It's important to realize that there is almost no such thing as a hidden heart problem. Yes, they can occur in rare cases, but the reality is that if you're younger than 40 and have no reason to believe you have any heart trouble, the likelihood of experiencing and surviving a heart attack is basically nothing. It is very, very rare for someone to have an undiagnosed heart condition that a doctor cannot find that they survive without issue. If there's no reason to think you could have a heart attack, you probably can't.

But of course, that's often not that comforting. Those with panic attacks also often have health anxiety, and probably worry that they're one of the only people that have an undiagnosed health condition. So the following are examples of ways that you can tell the difference between panic attacks and heart attacks.

Chest Pains

Both panic attacks and heart attacks have chest pains, and both can cause what feels like a squeezing of the heart. But heart attacks cause chest pains that tend to radiate all along the shoulder. The pain isn't localized to the heart area and instead can cover a significant portion of the left side of the body. Panic attacks tend to have more focused chest pains and rarely does the pain radiate strongly.


Both heart attacks and panic attacks can cause nausea, and in some cases panic attacks can lead to vomiting, but that is much less common. Heart attacks, on the other hand, are more likely to cause vomiting. The difference isn't significant enough to guarantee any difference, but there is a higher likelihood of heart problems if you vomit.

Age and Health

Of course, as mentioned earlier, the most significant difference is age and health. Men and women tend to start getting panic attacks in their twenties, with some in their teens and some in their thirties. Hormonal changes can also cause panic attacks but are usually caused by known hormonal issues.

On the other hand, heart attacks are more common in the obese, in those with ill health, and in the elderly. If you don't fall into these risk factors, the likelihood you can even have a heart attack is very small. If you've also been to the doctor and have had your heart listened to, it's even smaller, if not close to impossible.

Loss of Consciousness

It is possible for those with panic attacks to faint, but it occurs very infrequently. Heart attacks, however, are more likely to cause a loss of consciousness, and so if you did pass out after this heart issue occurred, make sure you see a doctor.


Of course, panic attacks aren't dangerous, and everyone survives them with no long-term health issues. Heart attacks are more difficult to survive and often leave you with a damaged heart. As simple as it sounds, if you're able to read articles on the difference between a heart attack and a panic attack, chances are you had a panic attack.

Talk to a Doctor

Unfortunately, beyond these differences, the two are very hard to differentiate. Both even cause disaster and "worst case scenario" thinking, which is why those that have panic attacks are often going to fear that they're going through a heart attack.

The only thing you can do to truly know whether or not you have a heart problem is to talk to your doctor because they are the only people trained to diagnose heart health issues.

In the meantime, consider taking my free 7-minute anxiety test now. This test is a valuable tool for figuring out if you're suffering from panic and what you can do to control it.

Start the test here, now.

Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Apr 03, 2018.

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