QUESTION: What’s the difference between a heart attack and panic attack?

ANSWER: If your heart starts to race and you feel pain in your chest and have trouble breathing, you might be having a heart attack. Or not. It could be something else, like a panic attack. In either case, the symptoms can be very scary, and should not be taken lightly. Panic attacks are caused by your body’s “fight or flight” response, triggered by your stress hormones.

Heart attacks, on the other hand, often result from an insufficient quantity of blood reaching your heart, usually due to a blocked artery. It can be hard to tell, in the stress of the moment, whether you have a heart problem or a stress problem. Heart attacks often happen during physical exertion, such as exercise or hard work, like shoveling snow or running up a flight of stairs.

Also, heart attacks continue, and get worse over time, while stress-related attacks often subside after about 20 minutes. In either case, if there’s any doubt, never hesitate to call 911, or visit an ER, an urgent care facility, or your primary care provider, without delay.

Ask the Doctor is brought to you by Madisonhealth. This column does not establish a provider/patient relationship and is for general informational purposes only. This column is not a substitute for consulting with a physician or other health care provider.

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