Skye likes writing about mental health, nutrition, and wellness. She is passionate about sharing information that will educate, and positively affect people's lives.
Leann Poston, M.D.
Leann Poston, M.D. earned her medical degree from the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. She completed an MBA from Raj Soin College of Business, focusing on healthcare. She is a full-time medical communication writer and educator.
February 4, 2021
Chest pain is common during anxiety attacks. Usually, it will subside with time, after administering medication, or proper coping mechanisms.
If you have tingling, pain, or numbness in your left arm, your chest pain may be part of a more serious cardiac episode – if that’s the case, call 911 immediately.
Anxiety is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult medical conditions to cope with. Living under constant fear, dread, or threat of unpredictable panic attacks makes it incredibly hard to live comfortably. Anxiety is very common, affecting nearly 18% of Americans over the age of 18.
Even more surprising, around 40% of people experiencing anxiety never get the help they need.
There are many different types of anxiety, and each type has different effects. While the exact origins of anxiety cases are personal (genetics, trauma, etc.), people with the same types of anxiety share symptoms.
Some people with anxiety report chest pain as a symptom of their anxiety. This can be very worrying as the person may think they’re having a heart attack.
There is a big difference between chest pain from anxiety and a heart attack. In this article, we’ll discuss the differences and how to know which is which, what causes anxiety chest pain, and how to treat chest pain brought about by anxiety episodes.
Yes! Chest pain is a common symptom during anxiety and panic attacks. According to the National Library of Medicine, “chest pain is a common symptom of panic attacks; 22% to just over 70% of panic attacks are associated with chest pain. Likewise, between 18% and 25% of all patients who present to emergency departments with chest pain have [panic disorder].”
While chest pain may be a common symptom of anxiety, this doesn’t make it any less frightening.
Some symptoms that are common are as follows.
Naturally, what we call anxiety is just our body’s response to stress. When stressed, the body will tighten certain muscles in preparation for some kind of conflict, even when we know that no such conflict will occur.
That’s the problem with anxiety. Anxiety makes our brain highly sensitive to stress, where the smallest stressors can make those with anxiety disorders feel as if they’re doomed.
The most common type of anxiety associated with chest pain is panic disorder. This kind of anxiety disorder causes a feeling of panic when faced with a phobia, trigger, reminder of a traumatic event, or a stressor of any degree of severity.
Panic attacks last anywhere from 10-30 minutes. From the beginning, they gradually get worse until they peak at the halfway point. This is followed by a steady decrease in fear and anxiety until you feel normal again.
Those who experience panic attacks also report chest pain during the episode. This can add to the level of fear experienced because they may think that they’re experiencing a heart attack. This is most likely not the case, as panic attacks are known to cause chest pain that is very uncomfortable, but not immediately life-threatening.
Those who have experienced this feel:
While in the heat of the moment, this may seem like a heart attack, this pain is actually wholly focused on the chest’s exterior (in the muscles and skin), independent from the heart.
While both panic attacks and heart attacks cause an increase in heart rate, only heart attacks will result in pain radiating from the chest to the jaw, arms, and legs. “Chest attacks” caused by panic episodes are just intense feelings of pain felt for 5-10 seconds.
This pain is most likely caused by muscle tension from increased levels of stress hormones in the body. If you’re hyperventilating during a panic attack, this can lead to a surge of chest pain. This happens because hyperventilation creates low carbon dioxide levels in the blood, facilitating the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles.
The chest pain most people feel during a panic attack is, biochemically at least, no different than the soreness one feels after a great workout.
Chest pain is a concerning symptom, if you are unsure of the cause of your chest pain, it is best to seek emergency medical attention to verify its cause. Time is of the essence when treating a heart attack. Many people rationalize that they are not having a heart attack and delay treatment causing serious long-term problems.
We put together this helpful table so you can quickly identify if you’re having a medical emergency or chest pain from an anxiety attack.
|Symptom||Anxiety Attack||Heart Attack|
|Pain in the chest without activity||x|
|Pain in chest brought on by activity||x|
|Other anxiety symptoms and chest pain||x|
|Prolonged or constant chest pain||x|
|Sharp chest pain that lasts less than a minute||x|
|Chest pain that radiates from the chest down the arm or up the jaw||x|
Treating anxiety-related chest pain is a similar process to treating the anxiety itself. It turns out that the stress response is in one place: your brain. That’s not to say that anxiety isn’t real because it very much is. The problem starts in your mind either through uncontrollable thought patterns, chemical imbalances, or both, then manifests itself in your body.
People with anxiety use the following techniques to cope with the chest pain they experience during a panic attack.
Deep breathing. Therapists recommend breathing in through your nose for four seconds, holding for four seconds, then exhaling through your mouth over a four second period. Deep breathing is the cliche, go-to answer for anxiety attacks for two excellent reasons. First, it sends more oxygen to your brain, allowing it to assess the situation and your condition more clearly and accurately. The second is, that deep breaths bring more oxygen into your muscles, allowing them to relax and clearing out any lactic acid.
Remember that it’s temporary. And that it’s not a heart attack. Understanding that you’re undergoing a short-lived panic attack that will pass, is key to getting better at coping with it, and the same applies to chest pain.
Focus on an object and stay positive. To distract yourself from the fear of a panic attack and the anguish of chest pain, focus on an item in your home or environment that makes you happy. Really try to go to your “happy place” while undergoing a panic attack, as hard as that may be. This cuts off negative thought patterns and allows you more control over your mind.
Rate your experience. Some anxiety panic disorder patients find it comforting to rate each incident in their mind. They compare them on a scale of one to ten to other panic attacks, with one representing barely noticeable to ten being the most severe attack yet experienced. Rating a panic attack as it comes forces your brain into self-awareness. By measuring and quantifying something, we have control over it. The speedometer on your car tells you whether you’re going too fast or too slow, making you the master of what happens next. This is the same idea behind rating a panic attack.
If you suffer from an anxiety disorder and need more guidance on how to overcome chest pain and panic attacks, consult with an online healthcare professional today.
Treating the root cause of anxiety chest pain can also be done in the long run by treating the anxiety itself. Typically anxiety is treated through medication and therapy, which have proven to be most effective. Doctors at our affiliated site, Plush Care, can help with both of these things.
PlushCare is a top telehealth company and we’re proud to partner with them to make healthcare more accessible to all. PlushCare has connected hundreds of thousands of patients with top online doctors and therapists and they have a 97% satisfaction rating.
Doctors at PlushCare can prescribe anxiety medication like SSRIs, and NRIs, and help with long-term medication management.
Click here to book an appointment with a doctor.
PlushCare also provides online therapy. You can speak with a trained and licensed professional remotely to help guide you to working on your mental health. To book a free 15-minute consultation, contact 1-800-690-1562 or email [email protected]
Click here to book an appointment with a therapist.
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