Chest Tightness Due To Anxiety: Symptoms Causes And Solutions To Relieve It
- Chest tightness is a real, common physical symptom of anxiety
- It is more common in some types of anxiety than others
- Breathing exercises have a direct effect on chest tightness, although it may not address all the different causes
- It is not uncommon for chest tightness from anxiety to trigger further anxiety, especially in those with health fears
- How you address the tightness has to do with its cause. However, all anxiety related chest tightness will decrease if a person learns to manage their anxiety
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.
Anxiety Chest Pain Treatment
You may treat anxiety chest pain with pharmacological or psychotherapeutic therapies. Depending on the severity of your anxiety, your doctor may recommend a combination of many treatments. A psychologist may be able to help you discover behavioral and lifestyle changes you can make to reduce anxiety. A psychiatrist might write you a prescription for anxiety medication.
Selective serotonin receptor inhibitors and benzodiazepines are two classes of drugs used to treat panic attacks and anxiety. These drugs are highly effective and are used to provide relief for those who suffer frequent panic attacks. While online doctors may prescribe antidepressants to treat anxiety, benzodiazepines are controlled substances and cannot be prescribed online.
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Are Heart Palpitations From Anxiety Dangerous
Although heart palpitations can be alarming, most arent dangerous. They usually go away after the anxiety-causing situation passes.
Less commonly, heart palpitations can be a sign of a serious health problem, such as arrhythmia . These heart palpitations may feel like they cause anxiety rather than follow it. If you have palpitations along with chest pain, trouble breathing, dizziness or confusion, seek medical help right away.
What Is The Difference Between Anxiety Chest Pain And Heart Attack
Anxiety-induced chest pain can be easily confused with a heart attack and vice versa because of similar symptoms. Both the conditions have similar symptoms like chest pain, sweating, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, increased blood pressure, etc. Therefore, in case of chest pain, one must immediately contact a doctor or call the emergency helpline because the reason could be a severe cardiac issue, and prompt treatment can save someones life.
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How To Tell Where Your Chest Pain Is Coming From
Heres a quick cheat sheet with the differences between anxiety chest pain and a heart attack.
- When: Anxiety chest pain happens most often when at rest, and heart attack chest pain often happens during activity. Anxiety chest pain tends to start and end faster. Heart attack chest pain builds up and continues to increase in pain .
- Where: Anxiety chest pain usually stays in the chest, while heart attack chest pain can radiate through to the arms, shoulders, and jaw .
- What: Anxiety chest pain often feels much sharper with reports of a stabbing-like pain, and heart attack chest pain usually feels more heavy, aching, and with squeezing pressure .
- Who: Anxiety disorders, including panic attacks, are more common in women and heart attacks are more common in men .
Anxiety Chest Pain Symptoms
Anxiety chest pain can feel different to different people. Symptoms in the chest area can be described as:
- Sharp, shooting, or stabbing pain
- Persistent, dull aching
- Twitching or spasms
These uncomfortable feelings can come on gradually, or all at once.
It is more typical, however, for chest pain to present itself during panic or anxiety attacks that come on quickly, and for the sufferer to already feel anxious before the chest pain starts.
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Treatment Of Panic Disorder In Patients With Chest Pain
Panic disorder, as described above, can have profound effects on social, financial, and occupational function, as well as on elevated rates of cardiovascular disease. Fortunately, PD is highly treatable, as borne out by a number of trials using both pharmacologic and psychotherapeutic treatments. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors ,1,87,88 venlafaxine,89 and tricyclic antidepressants9093 are among the antidepressants with proven efficacy in PD, with rates of response of approximately 50% to 70% over several months. Benzodiazepines,88,9498 especially alprazolam and clonazepam, have also been proved effective in PD. Furthermore, cognitive-behavioral therapy , the best studied of the psychotherapies for PD, appears to be comparable to medication in the treatment of PD.99102 Treatment of patients with PD can be individualized on the basis of a patients preference for medication or psychotherapy, prior history of response, presence of comorbidity, and severity of symptoms.
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What Should You Do If You Experience Anxiety Chest Pain
Always seek medical care to get your chest pain checked out. Symptoms of anxiety/panic attacks and heart attacks overlap a bit. Its best to have yourself evaluated in the emergency room under the guidance of an experienced healthcare professional.
If you are diagnosed with anxiety chest pain or non-cardiac chest pain, seek professional healthcare to manage your anxiety. Treatments can include cognitive behavioral therapy to manage your anxiety and, if needed, medications .
Here are some steps to manage an anxiety attack or panic attack, even with chest pain :
- Breathe deeply, slowly, and steadily.
- Count to 10 and keep repeating until the feeling passes.
- Monitor your chest painanxiety chest pain doesnt last long compared to a heart attack .
- Focus on a calming favorite image while counting.
Those are useful, though temporary, fixes. While you may not reduce anxiety completely, lifestyle changes can help you reduce the severity of your physical symptoms of anxiety. Try these strategies to manage your anxiety :
- Eat rightIncrease your vegetables and decrease your sugar intake.
- ExerciseAim for at least 150 minutes a week. Bodily movement helps reduce anxiety.
- Get enough sleepMost people need at least 7 hours.
- Avoid alcohol or tobacco.
- Some people are sensitive to its effects.
Causes Of Anxiety Fear And Panic
There are many different causes of anxiety, fear or panic and its different for everyone.
When youre feeling anxious or scared, your body releases stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.
This can be helpful in some situations, but it might also cause physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate and increased sweating. In some people, it might cause a panic attack.
Regular anxiety, fear or panic can also be the main symptom of several health conditions. Do not self-diagnose speak to a GP if youre worried about how youre feeling.
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Whats The Difference Between Anxiety Chest Pain And A Heart Attack
Chest pain from anxiety can sometimes be confused with other problems, like a heart attack.
In comparison with anxiety chest pain, pain from a heart attack will worsen with activity and last longer , says Dr Saloojee.
Heart attack chest pain often feels like a squeezing, heavy or intense pressure on the chest. It can spread to other parts of the body, like the arms, shoulders, back and jaw. You may also experience sweating, nausea, coughing or wheezing.
Over time, you might start to recognise when chest pain is due to anxiety. But if youre ever worried that your chest pain is something more serious, seek medical help.
When To Contact A Doctor
It can be hard to know whether one is having a panic attack or a heart attack. Therefore, a person should seek immediate medical care if they or someone else is experiencing sudden and severe chest pain, particularly in the center or left parts of their chest.
Other warning signs of a heart attack include pressure in the chest lasting more than 23 minutes or pain that radiates to the arm or the jaw. A person may also feel short of breath.
Both panic disorders and cardiovascular problems are treatable conditions, so receiving a diagnosis from a doctor will help ensure that individuals receive the appropriate treatment.
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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.
What Does Anxiety Chest Pain Feel Like
One of the hardest parts about anxiety is that it often doesnt present the same way in any two people. What type and how severe your anxiety symptoms are can range from day to day.
Even the same physical symptom of chest pain from anxiety can differ from person to person. For most, the pain is sudden, harsh, and sharp but others may experience anxiety chest pain gradually.
Chest tightness anxiety symptoms can be described as any of the following:
- A persistent ache in the chest
- A shooting or sharp pain
- A burning, dull ache, or numbness in the chest area
- An abnormal muscle twitch or spasm
- Chest tightness or tension
- Stabbing pressure in the chest
For those with anxiety chest pain, people describe it as though there is a heavy weight on their chest, making them feel as though they are suffocating which can be absolutely terrifying.
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How Long Can An Anxiety Attack Last
The duration of an anxiety attack can change from one person to the next, and even the same person may never have the same feelings whenever they have panic attacks. But usually, when a person is having an anxiety attack, it will reach its peak within the first few seconds, and it will go on for a few minutes.
But it is also possible that an anxiety attack can last longer, and some people will say that they have episodes that can go as long as 30 minutes. Others have even described them going on for hours, or even days, although those are not as frequent.
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What Does Chest Tightness Caused By Anxiety Feel Like
There are different ways to describe chest tightness that is caused by anxiety. For some people, it may simply feel as though they have pulled a muscle in their chest. For others, it may feel like:
A dull and constant ache
A sharp, cramping, shooting pain
A burning feeling deep in the chest
An uncontrollable muscle twitch
A numb sensation
Chest tightness is more likely to occur when anxiety or stress comes on suddenly rather than building gradually.
If you are experiencing any chest pain for the first time, you should immediately seek professional medical help to ensure an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
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How Can You Tell If Youre Having Chest Pain From Anxiety Or A Heart Attack
Soits tricky. And, because of that, you should always seek medical attention, says licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer, Ph.D., creator of the Anxietys a B!tch podcast. If youve had panic attacks in the past and you know what anxiety-related chest pain feels like for you, thats a different story, Gallagher says. But, if youre unsure, you really need to get to a hospital to get checked out, just to be safe.
There are a few differences you may notice, though. Chest pain from an anxiety or panic attack most often develops when an individual is at rest, whereas heart attack pain most often develops when a person is active, Mayer says. Pain from a heart attack also frequently travels from the chest to other parts of the body, such as the jaw, shoulders, and arms. In contrast, chest pain stemming from anxiety remains in the chest.
But, again, when in doubt, get it checked out. If you dont have a history of anxiety, or arent familiar with your personal anxiety symptoms, it is always wise to seek medical attention to make sure nothing more serious is occurring, Clark says.
Take Stock Of The Situation
Accept your feelings of anxiety, recognize them, and then work through putting them in perspective.
Are you worried about something you cant control? Are you fearful of an outcome thats unlikely? Are you dreading a situation you cant control the outcome of? Talk your way through your feelings to find the source, and then work to put them into perspective.
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Why Can Anxiety Cause Chest Pain
It has a lot to do with how your body responds to a perceived threat. Your autonomic nervous system has several components, including your sympathetic nervous system, which triggers your fight-or-flight response, explains Thea Gallagher, Psy.D., clinical assistant professor of psychology at NYU Langone Health and co-host of the Mind in View podcast. Its your alarm system going off when youre in a dangerous situation or what you perceive as a dangerous situation, she says.
When this happens, your body releases a slew of different excitatory chemicals, including cortisol, adrenaline, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, Gallagher says, and that can make you feel hyped up and experience a slew of symptoms like shortness of breath, GI issues, and, yep, chest pain.
The chest pain is a response to those excitatory chemicals, Gallagher says. But, in the case of anxiety, youre not typically facing a real physical threat. We like to say that the alarm system is going off, but its because of burnt toast and not a fire, Gallagher says.
When To See A Doctor About Chest Tightness
Fortunately, the majority of cases of chest tightness will either settle by themselves or with the help of treatment from your doctor or pharmacist.
However, always go to your emergency department or call an ambulance if you have sudden chest pain or tightness that:
- spreads to the arms, jaw, neck or back
- lasts more than 15 minutes
- makes you feel sweaty or sick
- is accompanied by sudden or worsening shortness of breath
- causes your chest to feel heavy
- is associated with vomiting blood or dark vomit that looks like ground coffee
- causes you to cough up a lot of blood
- makes it hard for you to catch your breath
- suggests asthma symptoms are not responding to your regular treatment
- makes you dizzy or faint
- is accompanied by swelling, pain or redness in your legs
- is accompanied by signs of
You should also seek immediate medical attention if you have diabetes and experience chest pain or tightness.
Other symptoms that should always be assessed as a matter of urgency include:
- coughing up blood
- difficulty in swallowing food or drink
- unintentional weight loss
- a feeling of fullness or a mass in your tummy
- new, persistent and unexplained pain or discomfort in the upper part of your stomach , especially if youre aged over 55
Always speak to your doctor if you have chest tightness or pain that causes you concern. That includes pain that comes and goes away quickly, or discomfort that appears to have no other symptoms linked to it.
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