What Are Anxiety Attacks
Anxiety attacks, also called panic attacks, occur when you experience intense emotions and fear that often occurs at random times and without any warning. The symptoms can last up to an hour, but it varies depending on the individual.
Usually, these attacks have specific triggers such as spiders, heights, elevators, or anything that the person may be afraid of. Some anxiety attacks are minor while others can affect a persons quality of life.
When a person suffers from a panic attack, they usually spend a significant amount of time worrying about recurrent attacks. This could lead to unreasonable lifestyle changes to avoid potential triggers. For example, if a person experiences a panic attack every time they ride in an elevator, they may start avoiding elevators and take the stairs instead.
Some panic attacks can cause a person to be housebound and withdrawn from everyday life. This is why if any anxiety attack becomes too severe, its essential to seek help right away.
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Why Do Physical Symptoms Happen
Physical symptoms of anxiety occur as a result of our fight or flight response, which occurs when our brain perceives a threat. During fight or flight, our bodies prepare to either flee or fight the threat by initiating certain chemical and physical processes in the nervous system.
Common physical symptoms caused by anxiety include:
- Changes in breathing, which happen because the tension in your body prevents your lungs from completely exhaling. This tension can cause your breathing to become shallower, shorter, or may even cause you to start holding your breath.
- Muscle tightness, which happens because of tension that spreads throughout your body. Muscle tightness can be felt in multiple parts of your body and may be experienced differently for different people, but muscle tightness from anxiety is commonly felt in the jaw, neck, chest, or stomach. When this muscle tightness persists because of persistent anxiety, it can turn into muscle pain, and this is why chest pain may occur because of anxiety.
- Changes in heartbeat, which may have several different causes. One main cause is shortness of breath which then causes your heart to pump more oxygen into your blood as a means of compensating.
- Cold extremities and lightheadedness may happen as the result of blood flow being pulled toward your main organs and away from your extremities. This happens because anxiety can cause your body to perceive an emergency situation.
Anxiety And The Development Of Heart Disease
Its my view and my personal clinical experience that anxiety disorders can play a major role in heart disease, says McCann. I believe that a really careful look at anxiety would reveal the ways it can severely impact heart disease, both as a contributing factor and as an obstacle in recovery.
A natural reaction to a sudden heart attack can be similar to post-traumatic stress disorder:
- Youre likely to be shocked by your near-death experience and extremely hesitant to do the things you used to do.
- You might constantly relive the life-threatening event, and avoid the activity or place associated with the heart attack.
- Recurring anxious thoughts may impede your ability to get regular sleep.
- Your thoughts about what lies ahead may be extremely negative and cause a drastically foreshortened outlook of the future.
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Know The Correlation Between The Two Conditions
According to the American Heart Association), many mental health issues can affect your heart health. When your body is under stress, it produces higher levels of glucose, adrenaline, and cortisol. Repetitive or prolonged distress overworks your adrenal glands, heart, and arteries. Unhealthy coping mechanisms, like smoking cigarettes or eating fatty foods, can contribute to the negative cycle. If left unchecked, an unhealthy mental state becomes another risk factor for heart attack.
Additionally, up to a third of all heart attack survivors experience depression. Anxiety and chest pain can trigger more panic, resulting in a potentially destructive cycle. Healthy mental and physical habits reduce the chances of anxiety and heart attacks.
To learn more about living a heart-healthy lifestyle and what to do when anxiety feels like a heart attack, contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute today.
How A Heart Attack And Anxiety Occurs
A heart attack occurs when the blood supply has been cut short or blocked and the heart cant get enough oxygen. If the blood flow is not restored, that section of the heart will begin to die. Plaque buildup in the arteries and blood vessels can cause the blockage.
A heart attack is a medical emergency so go to the nearest emergency room when you notice any of the warning signs.
Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, occurs when you have a fear that something bad is going to happen. Anxiety is a non-medical situation, but it can cause muscle tension.
Anxiety attacks have been linked to stress. The irony is, although it cant cause a heart attack, stress plays a role in coronary artery disease development. Plus, people with heart attacks may also experience anxiety.
Take note anxiety and panic attacks are different, though they are usually used interchangeably. In most cases, anxiety relates to a specific event or situation. Panic attack, on the other hand, can happen without a trigger. Furthermore, panic attacks are severe than anxiety symptoms.
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Ways To Reduce Chest Pressure
When you are experiencing chest pressure and/or tightness, the key is to try to figure out the potential causes. Once you deem anxiety to be the cause of the symptom, the next goal is to stop it. See the following examples:
- Hyperventilation: Try to get your breathing under control by taking slower, deeper breaths and not trying to over-breathe or breathe too fast. When youre experiencing hyperventilation, you may feel as though youre not getting enough air, but hyperventilation occurs when you have expelled more CO2 than you make. So breathing more slowly helps to rebuild those CO2 levels.
- Bloating/Heartburn: If you can potentially reduce/prevent any gas, do so. You may also want to consider taking an antacid or drinking water, which may help with bloating or heartburn. Heartburn can be improved by eating more slowly, decreasing the amounts of spicy foods you consume, and staying upright for at least 30 minutes after eating. Also, avoid heartburn-inducing foods like peppermint, chocolate, coffee or caffeinated beverages, tomatoes, alcohol, and citrus fruits
- Muscle Strain: Be mindful of lifting or carrying items that are too heavy. Make sure to stretch and warm up your muscles before doing any strenuous activities.
These are only temporary fixes. Remember that your chest pressure and/or tightness is often related to some type of anxiety issue or anxiety disorder. That means that the only way to prevent the chest pressure from returning is to learn to manage your anxiety.
Impact Of Anxiety Attacks
Anxiety attacks, or panic attacks, are episodes of intense fear and emotional distress. They usually strike suddenly and without warning. And they may last several minutes or up to an hour.
These attacks may have a discrete trigger. Sometimes, though, they occur without a known cause.
Anxiety attacks are often recurrent. They’re distressing to experience and concerning for friends and family who witness them.
When you’ve had panic attacks, it’s common to worry about having more. Attempts to avoid them can lead to extreme lifestyle changes.
You may find yourself avoiding situations or environments that have triggered previous episodes. You may also get in the habit of checking for escape routes you can take should anxiety strike.
Avoidance strategies can become extensive. At the extreme end is people who become housebound or otherwise withdraw from the world. This is called agoraphobia.
Anxiety attacks aren’t just intense fright, though. They can cause physical symptoms including:
- Severe dyspnea
- Abdominal cramping
- Chest pain
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Anxiety Chest Pain Vs Heart Attack
Anxiety chest pain is so alarming because we associate chest pain with heart attacks. And its fair to feel concernedabout 735,000 people in the U.S. have heart attacks each year, and chest pain is one of the common symptoms.
But studies show that 80% of people who go to the emergency room with chest pain are not having a heart attack, and 58% of that group suffer from moderate to severe anxiety.
Though pain related to a heart attack and anxiety chest pain can feel similar, there are several differences between the two that can help you determine which you may be experiencing.
For example, while anxiety chest pain can feel different from person to person, it tends to limit itself to just the chest.
Most people experiencing heart attack chest pain, on the other hand, explain it as a squeezing, heavy, and/or aching pain that radiates outwards from the chest to the arms, shoulders, and jaw .
There are also differences when it comes to when the pain starts, and how long it lasts.
Anxiety chest pain tends to start when the body is at rest, and, as previously mentioned, lasts for approximately 10 minutes .
Conversely, heart attack chest pain typically starts slowly when the body is active, and the pain gradually increases in intensity. Chest pain during a heart attack also tends to get worse with exertion and lasts longer than pain related to anxiety.
If you think you are experiencing a heart attack, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
The Effect Of Anxiety On The Heart
When someone is anxious, their body reacts in ways that can put an extra strain on their heart. The physical symptoms of anxiety can be especially damaging among individuals with existing cardiac disease.
Anxiety may have an association with the following heart disorders and cardiac risk factors:
- Rapid heart rate In serious cases, can interfere with normal heart function and increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
- Increased blood pressure If chronic, can lead to coronary disease, weakening of the heart muscle, and heart failure.
- May result in higher incidence of death after an acute heart attack.
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Do You Cry During A Panic Attack
With panic attacks people usually feel a sense of immediate threat, Levine said. This causes them to respond by crying for help or trying to escape whatever predicament they are in. Sometimes people only have one or two panic attacks in their lives. They usually happen under extreme amounts of stress or pressure.
Can Anxiety Cause Chest Pain
Per a study conducted by Demiryoguran, Karcioglu, et al., “Physicians should always consider in patients presenting to the with chest pain after ruling out organic etiology. Patients’ definition of atypical pain, recurrent admissions to ED, and presence of associated symptoms such as dizziness, chills or hot flushes, and fear of death could aid in considering AD.” Since large amounts of money go towards primary care visits from patients with anxiety that often goes undiagnosed, physicians need to become more aware of how anxiety disorders present themselves.
A highly-cited study of 2280 men from Greater Boston published by Kawachi, Sparrow, et al. , found that “Compared with men reporting no symptoms of anxiety, men reporting two or more anxiety symptoms had elevated risks of fatal CHD and sudden death.” Seeing as women are more likely to experience anxiety, this study is somewhat limited. Still, the evidence does point towards chest pain as a real symptom of anxiety that could pose a potential risk in chronic cases.
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Anxiety And Anxiety Disorders: What Are The Signs And Symptoms
Anxiety can manifest in a wide variety of different ways, and the symptoms of anxiety may vary from person to person.
Some common signs and symptoms associated with anxiety can include:
- Nervousness, restlessness, or feelings of tension
- Having an overwhelming sense of impending doom or danger
- Having overwhelming feelings of panic
- Increased heart rate or heart palpitations
- Rapid breathing or hyperventilation
- Having difficulty controlling your worries and feeling like you are trapped
- Having the overwhelming urge to avoid anything that triggers anxiety for you
How To Calm Your Anxiety
In moments of high stress, there are steps you can take to calm your anxiety:
- Focus on breathing slowly and deeply. Breathe in through your nose and allow your lungs to fill completely. Breathe out slowly through your mouth. You can do this anywhere at any time. If possible, it may help to find a quiet, comfortable place to sit and close your eyes while you breathe deeply.
- Take a walk. Get outside and take a walk, paying attention to your stride and your surroundings rather than the things that make you anxious.
- Listen to or play music. Let your favorite music or soundtrack take you away. Or spend a few minutes playing a musical instrument.
- Focus on a favorite activity. Distract yourself by playing a game, doing a puzzle, reading, watching something that makes you laugh, or indulging in your favorite hobby.
- Talk to a friend. Reach out to a friend or family member. If you cant talk to them in person, call or message them.
- If too many things are coming at you at once, unplug. Carve out some quiet time by turning off your phone and other gadgets. Even 15 minutes of quiet time may be enough to help you destress and feel calmer.
- Journal your thoughts. During times of stress or anxiety, writing may help you sort through your emotions.
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How Stress Puts Your Body Into Overdrive
Anxiety is our bodys natural response to stress internal or external.
In the face of a perceived threat, our brain releases adrenaline and cortisol to kick-start the fight or flight response, says Eileen Stech, psychologist and PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales.
That adrenaline brings on a whole cascade of changes where really everything in our body either down-regulates or up-regulates to try and survive, Ms Stech said.
That means our heart and breathing rates increase , our muscles become tense, and blood flow is diverted away our abdominal organs to our brain.
Our fight or flight response help us effectively deal with threats. But in some cases, its triggered inappropriately.
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But If Your Heart Is Healthywhy Would Stress Cause A Pain In Your Left Arm
Think about that for a moment. Its not surprising that of Dr. Clarkes 7,000 stress-illness patients, hes never encountered one with a simultaneous presentation of chest and left arm pain in the presence of a healthy heart.
Angina means theres a problem with the coronary arteries, and there are treatments for this. Do NOT ignore these symptoms!
Tests by a cardiologist would begin with an EKG and cardiac stress test.
However, if you go to an emergency room with complaints of pain in the chest and left arm, you will immediately have an EKG done, blood tests to see if you had or are having a heart attack or have a blood clot in a lung, and a chest X-ray.
Anxiety, of course, is often the cause of a single symptom: chest pain.
Dr. Clarke explains, The mechanism that produces physical symptoms in anxiety is not completely understood.
But possible explanations include altered processing by the central nervous system of sensory signals from the chest and contraction of muscles in the chest caused by signals traveling from brain to muscle via the sympathetic nervous system.
Since 1983 Dr. Clarke has successfully cared for over 7,000 patients with stress illness.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. Shes also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.
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How To Manage Anxiety
Anxiety might not be comfortable, but it is a common and sometimes useful response.
While its impossible to avoid anxiety completely , you can become more aware of how its affecting you in order to manage it when its overwhelming.
You might already have methods for relieving anxiety-induced chest pain in the moment. If youre looking for more ideas, you can try:
- engaging in slow, deep breathing by counting to 10
- taking a 5-minute break from anything thats currently causing anxiety, if possible
- getting up to walk around, stretch, or raise your arms above your head to give yourself more room to breathe
Therapy and medication can also be effective for managing anxiety disorders.
What Is Anxiety Chest Pain And Why Is It So Common
Is your chest tightness anxiety, or is it something more? Research shows that anxiety is a contributing factor for about 30% to 40% of people who experience low-risk chest pain and go to the ER.
Even just the thought of chest pain can make us, well, anxious. Feeling anxiety in chest regions, however, is a fairly common symptom of anxiety. Its the association of chest pain with heart related conditions or, in the worst cases, a heart attack, that makes any type of chest pain seem frightening.
Knowing the difference between anxiety-driven chest pain, and when it could be something more, is important. To do that, you need to understand how anxiety chest pain usually feels.
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Am I Having A Heart Attack
Its always better to be safe rather than sorry when your heart is involved. But chances are that your terrible feelings are not those of a heart attack, but of a panic attack instead.
Approximately one quarter of patients who go to the emergency room for treatment of chest pain have panic disorder, says psychiatrist Many of these patients are young women, among whom panic disorders are more common and heart disease is rare.
Chest pain is a symptom that can accompany panic attacks. But panic disorder is often unrecognized and untreated among young women with chest pain.