The Physical Side Of Anxiety
The brain is a powerful organ. So much that the anxiety, the depression, and the fear can turn mental fears into actual physical pains.
Most people actually experience anxiety as a physical problem, said Jason Conover, social worker for Intermountain Healthcares Utah Valley Hospital. It often doesnt get recognized because the physical symptoms are so apparent and quite troubling that they might think they are experiencing something else for instance, a heart attack.
Anxiety builds tension throughout the body. Conover said in the brain can react to thoughts of fear and turn to the muscles to brace for a moment that is not happening. Much like if you were about to get in an accident or protecting your body to get punched. The action never happens but chemically you just experienced it just from a random fear thought that crept in.
Treating anxiety is important for better mental health and physical health as well. Inflammation builds up from the stress, and inflammation is a culprit in numerous chronic conditions such as heart and gastrointestinal conditions.
Here are several ways that anxiety manifests in physical problems.
Breathing Due to the tension, your breathing can change, Conover said. Breathing can become shorter, shallower, or even holding your breath too long. The lungs do not fully exhale due to the tension. Relaxation and breathing techniques can help.
RELATED: Stress and Heart Disease
Are You Having An Anxiety Attack Or A Heart Attack
People who suffer from panic attacks often say their acute anxiety feels like a heart attack, as many of the symptoms can seem the same. Both conditions can be accompanied by shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, sweating, a pounding heartbeat, dizziness, and even physical weakness or temporary paralysis.
Perhaps most powerful, though, is the sense of dread that overshadows both events. The fear itself can lead to an increase in these symptoms.
To learn more about living a heart-healthy lifestyle and what to do when anxiety feels like a heart attack, contact UPMCs Heart and Vascular Institute today.
Is This Cause For Concern
Pain in the right side of your chest can happen for a number of reasons, but most chest discomfort isnt related to your heart. In fact, chest pain on your right side typically isnt the result of a heart attack.
Your chest is home to other organs and tissues that may be inflamed or injured, causing you to feel pain. Any aches you feel are most likely due to muscle strain, infection, stress or anxiety, or other conditions unrelated to your heart.
Keep reading to learn what that may be behind your symptoms and when you should see your doctor.
Chest pain on the left side is typically associated with a heart attack. If you feel any pain on your right side, its most likely not related to your heart.
But you should still seek immediate medical attention if you:
- have unexplained and unexpected severe chest pain
- feel pressure, squeezing, or fullness in your chest
- have severe pain shooting through your arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- break out into a cold sweat
- feel weak, dizzy, or nauseous
- have difficulty breathing
Any of these symptoms could be caused by a serious or life-threatening condition, so you should seek urgent care as soon as possible.
An anxiety disorder or extreme stress can bring on panic attacks, which can feel very similar to a heart attack. Panic attacks can happen out of the blue or be triggered by a traumatic or stressful event in your life.
Symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks can include:
- shortness of breath
When To See A Doctor
Whenever you experience excruciating chest pain, its best to see a doctor immediately. You want to rule out heart problems like coronary artery disease, which can potentially be fatal and dangerous. Coronary artery disease occurs when blood clots form on one or multiple heart vessels, therefore reducing blood flow and oxygen to the body. The heart will beat faster to compensate, therefore resulting in severe pain.
Doctors can use a variety of diagnostic exams to find the underlying causes so they can treat it immediately. However, if cardiac problems are eliminated, then its most likely an anxiety attack. When this is the case, your doctor can prescribe you the proper medication and refer you to a psychologist to initiate cognitive behavior therapy.
Since chest pain from coronary artery disease and anxiety attacks are very similar, it can be very tough to differentiate. Luckily, there are online clinics, such as GuruMD, that can give you access to an online healthcare provider. The doctor can initiate an examination through a video to provide you with a basic idea of whats going on. That way, you wont have to spend hours at urgent care.
Related: Why Should I Use an Online Doctor?
Vagus Nerve Chest Pain
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Anxiety Chest Pain: Is It Just In Your Head
Anxiety doesnt just make you feel worried or nervous. Being anxious can also cause physical symptoms. One of the more alarming symptoms can be anxiety-related chest pain. Learn why anxiety can cause chest pain, what you can do about it, and most importantly, how to tell the difference between chest pain caused by anxiety or panic and chest pain related to a heart attack.
The Vagus Nerves Stop The Sympathetic Nervous System From Over Racing Of The Heart
The parasympathetic nervous system releases the hormone acetylcholine to slow the heart rate.
- The sympathetic nervous system releases hormones from the adrenal glands and norepinephrine) to accelerate the heart rate. This occurs during times of stress, exercise, physical exertion, etc. When the exercise, stress, or physical exertion is over, the parasympathetic nervous system releases the hormone acetylcholine to slow the heart rate.
- The vagus nerves are a major part of the parasympathetic nervous system, the slowing down process.
- If these hormone levels are left unchecked or unregulated by the vagus nerves involvement in the parasympathetic nervous system, the heart can beat like a runaway train with nothing to stop it except in most cases medications.
- Many people report a history of arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation, atrial tachycardia, paroxysmal atrial tachycardia, and ventricular arrhythmias. Some will report atrial ectopic heartbeat. An extra heartbeat comes from the ventricles and disrupts the normal beat pace. This can be the result of the vagus nerves inability to slow down the heart rate.
Frightening Symptoms Of Anxiety
Chest tightness is an anxiety symptom that often causes a severe amount of distress. That is because chest tightness has a negative connotation that links it to severe health conditions. This can be very daunting for individuals who do not know much about the physical effects of stress and anxiety in their lives.
Anxiety Chest Pains: Knowing The Signs And Symptoms
While it is normal to experience some anxiety every now and then, people living with anxiety disorders can deal with intense and frequent bouts of anxiety, excessive worry, and intense fear. Anxiety disorders can make it feel like you are never able to relax, and your feelings of anxiety or panic may significantly interfere with your ability to complete your daily tasks and activities.
Anxiety disorders can cause a wide range of symptoms, including physical symptoms, and it can sometimes be difficult to know whether your symptoms are being caused by your anxiety, or if they are being caused by another medical problem altogether.
Chest pain is one specific physical symptom of anxiety that can be particularly alarming, but there are a few ways you can tell the difference between anxiety chest pain and chest pain caused by something more serious, like a heart attack.
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 .
12 minute read
Home Treatment For People Who Have Been Diagnosed With Chest Pain
If you have stable angina, you can probably predict when your symptoms will happen. You probably know what things cause your angina. If you and your doctor have made a home treatment plan, follow that plan. If you are having angina symptoms more often than usual, or they are different or worse than usual, call your doctor right away. If you have angina symptoms that do not go away with rest or are not getting better within 5 minutes after you take a dose of nitroglycerin, 911 or other emergency services immediately.
You may be able to control how much your angina bothers you by making changes in your lifestyle. You may find it helpful to:
- Avoid strenuous activities that bring on angina.
- Eat balanced, nutritious meals. Try to limit the amount of fats and fatty foods you eat.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- how much alcohol you drink.
- Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
- Reduce stress. For more information, see the topic Stress Management.
- Control your blood pressure with diet and medicine. For more information, see the topic High Blood Pressure.
- Avoid extremely cold or hot environments.
- Take all medicines, such as nitroglycerin, as instructed by your doctor.
- Follow the exercise or activity program you and your doctor developed.
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.
Who Is At Risk For Getting Broken Heart Syndrome
You may be at higher risk for getting broken heart syndrome if you are a middle-aged woman. The risk of developing the condition increases five times after the age of 55. While the syndrome has been reported in younger women, in men and even in children, the vast majority of patients are post-menopausal women. The exact reason for this is unknown, but it is believed that because the female hormone estrogen helps to protect the heart from the harmful effects of adrenaline, women become particularly vulnerable to the effects of sudden stress as they grow older and their estrogen levels decline. Other risk factors for developing this condition include a history of anxiety, depression or neurologic illness.
Stay on Top of Your Heart Health
If you have a new or existing heart problem, it’s vital to see a doctor. Our heart health checklist can help you determine when to seek care.
What To Do When You Experience Chest Pains
Did you know that about 20 to 40 percent of the global population experience chest pain at some point? Some folks experience mild discomfort in their chest that lasts for a couple of seconds. Others report having sharp and intense blows that come and go in waves. It can also arise from all sorts of health conditions some benign, while others can be life-threatening.
If you suddenly feel chest pain, dont attempt to self-medicate or self-diagnose. Take note that chest pain is among the top signs of a heart or lung problem, such as a heart attack, coronary artery disease, and pneumonia. Call for an ambulance as soon as possible if you experience chest pain with any of the symptoms below:
- Tightness in the chest
- Acid reflux
- Trouble swallowing
Its a must to get an accurate diagnosis of what caused your chest pain, especially if it frequently recurs. The earlier you unravel the root cause of your pain, the better prognosis you can have. Aside from the standard physical examination, your doctor might need to run additional tests like X-rays, electrocardiogram , and blood tests. This way, you can have a more precise understanding of whats going on inside your body.
How To Hang On: Coping During A Pandemic
A poll conducted in mid-April 2020 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 56% of adults reported that worry and stress because of the pandemic has had a negative effect on their mental health.
Respondents reported adverse effects such as trouble sleeping, poor appetite or overeating, frequent headaches or stomachaches, difficulty in controlling their temper, or increasing alcohol/drug use, and worsening chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure. This is up from 45% reporting that stress over coronavirus had negatively affected their mental health in a KFF poll conducted in late March 2020.9
Right now everybody has increased anxiety, whether youre healthy as a horse, whether you have a psychiatric illness, or not, says Dr. McCann.
Telemedicine can help by connecting people with their doctors, and video meeting apps provide a means to keep up a social life as we remain in our homes. More on how to access telemedicine.
Dr. McCann also suggests exercising together with friends via video chat to social interaction, while Dr. Bhatia recommends practicing mindfulness to ease stress.
Symptoms that are related to anxiety/panic can improve with mindfulness-based breathing exercises, says Dr. Bhatia.10 More on this from Dr. Bhatia.
The Prognosis Of Anxiety Chest Pain
The likelihood of having chest pains from anxiety is often high. Its important for your doctor to rule out cardiac problems, so they know that its truly anxiety or a panic attack. Fortunately, with the right cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and medication, patients often experience significant improvement in their symptoms. Unfortunately, misdiagnosed coronary artery disease it can lead to fatal issues down the line.
How Can You Tell If Your Chest Pain Is Caused By Anxiety Or Panic Attacks
Symptoms may vary from person to person and you should always consult your doctor for concerns about your heart, but there are some key differences in chest pain caused to anxiety versus chest pain caused by heart problems:
- Chest pain due to anxiety only stays in the chest area while pain due to heart issues spreads from the chest to other parts such as jaws, shoulders, and arms, etc.
- Heart-related chest pain develops when youre engaged in some activity while chest pain due to stress develops when youre at rest.
- Chest pain due to anxiety might feel like a sharp pain but pain due to heart problems often feels like squeezing and heavy pressure in your chest.
- Pain due to anxiety fades away after a few minutes such as 10-20 minutes, on the other hand, if your pain starts slowly and gradually keeps increasing with time, it could indicate a heart issue.
- If youre feeling out of control in some situation, anxious, feel numbness and sweating in your hands and feet and eventually feel chest pain, then this is mostly due to anxiety but if youre feeling normal and you start experiencing chest aches then it might be a heart-related issue.
Can Anxiety Cause Chest Pain
You may be relieved to find that the answer is YES.
Chest pain is one of the common anxiety symptoms, along with a rapid heartbeat, sweating, nausea, and dizziness.
How Does anxiety chest pain happen?
People having anxiety or panic attacks are prone to hyperventilation caused by the fight or flight response. This contracts blood vessels and may cause considerable chest pain.
General anxiety disorder is usually accompanied by poorer digestion and bloating. Bloating can increase the pressure on the lungs and lead to chest pain.
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The symptoms of an anxiety attack will respond to anxiety-control techniques, like deep breathing and relaxation exercises.
Here is one powerful technique to get immediate anxiety chest pain relief:
1. Sit with your back straight and your hands in your lap or on your thighs. Close your eyes. While doing this keep the tip of your tongue touching the top of your mouth.
When you inhale do it through your nose. Exhale through your mouth. Ready?
2. Start inhaling slowly for 4 seconds . Push out your stomach and fill your lower lungs first. Then the rest of the lungs are filled.
Hold your breath until you count to 7.
Exhale comfortably for 8 seconds.
Try to imagine that all the anxiety is leaving your body while you are exhaling. You are letting it go.
Pause for 2 seconds without inhaling and do this one more time.
Repeat until you feel your chest pain gone. And it will be!
Heart And Blood Vessels
- Angina pectoris is chest pain that arises with temporary reduction in the blood supply to the heart. It usually arises when the coronary arteries are narrowed. Heart tissue is injured.
- Heart attack or myocardial infarction is where a portion of the heart muscle tissue dies due to an interruption of the blood supply to the heart. Often a narrowed artery is blocked by a clot.
- Pulmonary embolism is where a blood clot blocks the vessel carrying blood to the lungs. This blood clot usually arises from the leg as is seen with deep vein thrombosis
- Carditis is inflammation of the heart which may arise with injury or infections. It can affect any layer of the heart, from the endocarditis which is the inner lining of the heart to pericarditis which affects the outer layer surrounding the heart.
- Palpitations is a pounding sensation caused by a more pronounced heartbeat. It can arise with various heart diseases but may also occur when the heart beats faster and harder with stress.
How Is It Diagnosed
Before diagnosing your intercostal neuralgia, your doctor will want to rule out any other causes of your pain. During a physical exam, theyll likely press the area between your ribs or ask you to take a deep breath. If either of these cause pain, you may have intercostal neuralgia.
Depending on your symptoms, you might also need a neurological exam to check for any problems with your nervous system. Your doctor might also use an , , CT scan, or MRI scan to look for any signs of injury.
There are several options for relieving intercostal neuralgia, and many people find that a combination of treatments works best.
When To Get Medical Help If You Have Chest Tightness Or Pain
Chest tightness or pain can be a sign of a serious health condition. Its a good idea to see a doctor whenever you experience chest pain with an unknown cause. Its especially important to seek medical help if your pain onsets suddenly or does not respond to anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen.
If you experience the following symptoms, or anything else concerning, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room:
- shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- pain that spreads to your left arm, back, shoulder, or jaw
- Monoclonal antibodies are proteins that are designed to target the virus that causes COVID-19 and prevent it from entering your cells. The combinations or casirivimab/imdevimab may be used.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs. Drugs such as the corticosteroid dexamethasone may be given to reduce inflammation caused by COVID-19. Current research suggests dexamethasone has the greatest benefit for people requiring mechanical ventilation.
- Immunomodulators. Drugs such as baricitinib/remdeivir or tocilizumab may be added to your treatment plan. Immunomodulators are a class of drugs that modify the activity of your immune system.
How Do You Tell The Difference
It can be challenging to distinguish between angina and an anxiety attack, especially because emotional distress can also increase the amount of oxygen the heart requires and trigger angina. Angina can occur at rest or with exertion , so its very difficult to distinguish the two based on symptoms alone.
Experience can also help differentiate them. If youve been diagnosed with either angina or a panic disorder before, you may recognize the discomfort as fitting your diagnosis or what triggers your symptoms.
In the case of chest pain, you should seek medical help right away. Your doctor will run several tests, including an electrocardiogram and a blood test called troponin, to look for signs of heart damage. These tests are the most definitive ways to distinguish the two conditions.
Chest Pain: Is It Anxiety A Heart Attack Or Covid
Panic disorder whether youve lived with it for years or have developed it due to the pandemic can cause chest pain, but cardiac and other physiological issues need to be ruled out before treatment can begin. And remember, any kind of chest pain requires medical attention.
Chest pain or tightness could be a symptom of the increased anxiety that is now prevalent in every facet of life as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to develop. Then again, it might not.
Chest pain also can be the result of a cardiac issue or due to a non-cardiac cause, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD1, a muscle or skeletal problem in the chest,2 or even a symptom of COVID-19.3
When associated with a panic attack, chest pain is a common symptom, but how do we know whats causing chest pain when we feel it? The only way to know for sure is by seeking medical attention.
Heightened levels of anxiety can cause chest pain to develop.
Seek Urgent Medical Help For Chest Pain
With chest pain, every minute counts. The faster you get to hospital for treatment, the better.
If any activity brings on chest pain, follow these steps:
1.Stop what you are doing and rest immediately.
2.Talk tell someone how you feel.
If you take angina medication:
- Wait 5 minutes. If you still have symptoms take another dose of your medicine.
- Wait 5 minutes. If your symptoms dont go away
3.Call 000 and chew on 300mg aspirin .
- Ask for an ambulance.
- Dont hang up.
- Wait for the operators instructions.
Do not take aspirin if you have an allergy to aspirin, or your doctor has told you not to take it.
Remember, if you have any doubt about your pain, call an ambulance anyway.
Do not drive yourself to hospital. Wait for the ambulance. It has specialised staff and equipment that may save your life.
Symptoms Of Anxiety Chest Pain
Chest pain related to anxiety attacks varies from person to person. Some people may experience gradual symptoms, while others experience severe and unbearable symptoms. Usually, the symptoms of anxiety chest pain entail a persistent chest aching, sharp/shooting pain, muscle twitch or spasm on the chest. People may feel tension, numbness, stabbing, or a burning sensation in their chest area, lasting for 5 to 10 seconds.
I Was Not Surprised That My Blood Pressure Was Elevated And That I Had Rapid Heart Rate But My Doctor Was
Here is another story:
I started having strange and unexplainable heart attack-like, panic attack-like symptoms. These included chest pains, a rapid heartbeat, and breathing difficulties. Of course, this frightened me, I am young, late 20s, how could I have a heart condition?
I did have the classic heart attack warning signs, pain in my chest, pain going down my left arm, breathing difficulties. One particularly bad day I went to Urgent Care because of chest pain and panic. I was assured that I was not having a heart attack but I should visit my primary care doctor as soon as I could. This visit to the doctor reassured me a little, but not a lot. I had an EKG which was fine. I was not surprised that my blood pressure was elevated and that I had a rapid heart rate. I could tell that on my own.
At my primary care doctor, these elevated cardio symptoms were attributed to panic attacks and white coat syndrome, the anxiety of being in the doctors office and my anxiety about taking the tests. I had had these symptoms before, I did not feel they were strong enough to see a doctor because I was convincing myself they were panic attacks. I was just not sure what caused them.
Lets stop here to explain some points. You may have already performed your own research as we find that people who suffer from symptoms like those above have done extensive reading on the internet. We will do a short summary and a video presentation with Ross Hauser, MD.