This Is the No. 1 Sign Your "Heart Attack" Is Something Else

The symptoms are similar, but these are two very different conditions.

Having a heart attack, it's safe to say, is an experience that no one hopes to go through. The uncertainty, pain, and life-threatening nature are things to be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, heart disease is still the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What makes matters even more unnerving, is that you make think you are having a heart attack, when actuality you are experiencing a panic attack—a frightening episode in its own right—because the two conditions share similar symptoms. And while a panic attack could be considered less serious because it's highly unlikely to result in death, mistaking one for the other in the moment can have serious implications.

So, in the event you find yourself suddenly experiencing symptoms like shortness of breath, excessive sweating, or sharp pain in your body and you think you are having a heart attack, here are the key signs that it might be a panic attack. In either case, however, it's always best to seek medical attention as soon as you notice something is wrong. And for more signs that your heath is in jeopardy, check out These Are the Heart Attack Warning Signs Hiding in Plain Sight.

Sharp, stabbing pain in the chest

young woman outside clutching chest
Shutterstock/Pearl PhotoPix

Though both events may cause you to feel pain in your chest, the sensations are different. According to MaryAnn De Pietro, a certified respiratory therapist in California, heart attacks are more likely to cause a squeezing pain or pressure in the chest, while people suffering a panic attack typically feel a sharp, stabbing pain in the center of their chest. And for more aches you should address with your doctor, check out 25 Common Pains You Should Never Ignore.

Pain that improves over time

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Doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Mass., say that one of the key differences in determining whether you are having a heart attack or panic attack is how long the pain endures. If whatever pain you are feeling begins to get better over time, it's probably a panic attack. With a heart attack, on the other hand, pain will often extend to other parts of body and become more intense with time. And for more on your physical health, check out 20 Surprising Ways You're Damaging Your Body.

Symptoms that resolve in 20-30 minutes

healthy man panic attack

In the case of a panic attack, not only will pain lessen over time, other symptoms—sweating, trouble breathing, rapid hear rate, and tingling in the hands—will resolve themselves within about a half an hour. Whereas, heart attack symptoms will continue to get worse with time.

Symptoms that occur under mental stress, but not physical

Close-up shot of a woman suffering from a headache and rubbing her temples at home

Finally, one of the clearest ways you can decipher a panic attach from a heart attack is based on what you were doing when the even occurred. According to doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, "One of the key distinctions between the two is that a heart attack often develops during physical exertion, whereas a panic attack can occur at rest," adding that panic attacks occur under extreme stress or anxiety, which does not necessarily involve physical exertion. "A heart attack is more likely to develop when the work load of the heart increases, for example while a person is shoveling snow or running up the stairs, especially in people who do not routinely engage in physical exertion," the hospital says. And for more up-to-date health information delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

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