Panic/anxiety attack or heart attack?

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-13-2012
Panic/anxiety attack or heart attack?
Mon, 02-11-2013 - 10:06am

This past Friday evening a friend of mine called and said she thought she was having a heart attack. Her arms were numb, she was short of breath, and had pain in her stomach and back. I told her to hang up and call 911. She did and I met her at the hospital. According to everything I've read, she had the symptoms of a heart attack. We spent the evening in the ER where they ran every test possible but everything turned out fine. The doctor came in, told her she was having an anxiety attack and prescribed an antidepressant. We had no idea that an anxiety attack could mimic a heart attack. She is now embarrassed and says she will never call 911 again. I am concerned about her because she isn't in the best of health to begin with and what if she really does have a heart attack now.  How can we tell the difference??

Avatar for nawleansdarlin
iVillage Member
Registered: 12-27-1999
Thu, 02-14-2013 - 11:12pm

I was rushed to the ER because I couldn't breath and this caused me anxiety.  It really started a week or so before when suddenly I was afraid to go sleep for fear that I would suffocate and die.  This seemed ridiculous to me because I have always had sinus issues and have never breathed through my nose at night.  I had never had a problem with that thought before.  I'm 45 years old and was eventually rushed to the ER because I seriously thought I was going to die.  I couldn't breath, my heart rate was off the charts, my chest hurt and yes I was paniced.  They asked me if I had asthma, I said, I was never diagnoised with that but that many in my family have asthma and my grandmother had COPD.  So that was thrown to the sidelines and I was tested for a heart attack and that came back that all was good so they said I had severe anxiety and I needed to see a psychologist.  I did see the psychologist and we did work on my separation anxiety.  I was away from my entire family for the first time in my life.  I was trying to deal with living in a new city but sucked at it. 

Well, I moved back home and got severely ill.  Then my lungs kept filling with fluid.  Finally I sought out someone who wouldn't just write off my symptoms as anxiety because I knew something was wrong inside and I just didn't know what.  I have asthma.  It went undiagnosed all my life and now I breath through my nose at night. 

I still have some anxiety issues.  I do sometimes have difficulty falling asleep but it is not because I think I will die if I go to sleep.  It is usually because I am worried about something else. 

Meds really do help me with my anxiety and also my depression. 

I do have a heart condition.  My heart beats too fast but my blood pressure is too low.  I am at risk for a heart attack.  I don't take any chances.  If I'm not sure I take the heart pill.  I will go to the ER if I think I am having a heart attack.  I'd rather be wrong than dead.

She should see her regular doctor and get some tests run to make sure that every thing is okay inside, physically. 

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Avatar for ubergeek
Community Leader
Registered: 09-23-2010
Tue, 02-12-2013 - 3:39pm

Hi TP!

Wow, how very, very scary.

My understanding is that both are very similar. If she's on her meds and diligently taking them, then I would say that if she has an episode of that magnitude again she should definitely call. Better safe than sorry.

My anxiety kicks up when I think I have something wrong with me. My husband feels I'm a hypochondriac, but I tend to just think the worst vs thinking I have everything under the sun. I, myself, have gone to the hospital with chest pains and all was well. I wasn't embarassed at all, but I can see how some people might be.

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-02-2008
Tue, 02-12-2013 - 3:30pm

OMG. I completely understand how your friend feels. I did the same thing and I was so embarrassed until my doctor explained that anxiety is a very serious issue and not something to ignore. Besides that, he said that anxiety attacks and heart attacks can be very difficult to distinquish between without testing and very often medical professionals can't tell when it is happening to them personally.


iVillage Member
Registered: 09-20-2009
Tue, 02-12-2013 - 3:25pm

Yes, the symptoms are very similar.  I've had a few panic attacks, and they're scary.  My grandmother experiences them and has been rushed to the hospital only to be reminded that they are panic attacks.  What we do is have her breathe into a paper bag.  That usually calms her down.  It's hard to give you advice for your friend because you always want to err on the side of caution with things like this, but I would try the paper bag trick and then call 911 if it doesn't help.

iVillage Member
Registered: 02-07-2011
Tue, 02-12-2013 - 3:20pm

I don't think I would even try to guess the difference, she should just go straight to the ER or call her doctor ASAP.  A little embarrassment is much better than the alternative.  I had no idea that a panic attack would be similar as well, that's a bit scary.  

 photo abbysummer_zps85da8a35.jpg

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-08-2012
Tue, 02-12-2013 - 3:19pm

Hopefully the meds will help take care of any future anxiety attacks. I would just tell her if she has symptoms again in the future, and you are concerned I see, that the meds would be taking care of the attacks so she can't be SURE that she isn't suffering from a heart attack.

There is no reason for her to be embarrassed, it could have been a heart attack, thankfully it wasn't, but next time it might be. Not something to fool around with. Better embarrassed than dead eh?