doctor explaining diagnosis to his female patient

How to Recognize if You Have Heart Problems or Anxiety

It can be difficult to tell what is happening when a sudden medical event occurs, like when you experience sudden chest pain or difficulty breathing. In addition to whatever symptoms you may experience, the fear of the unknown can cause panic, making it more difficult to understand what is actually happening. Especially for older adults, one of the most common points of confusion is understanding the difference between symptoms of a heart attack and those of a panic attack. In fact, one of the most frequently asked questions among patients 65 and older is, “How do I know if I have heart problems or anxiety?”

Even if you understand the symptoms of a panic attack and a heart attack, it can still be tricky to determine the difference.

Heart Attack

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Tingling of the hands
  • Racing heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sharp pain in the chest

Panic Attack

  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

Because the symptoms are very similar, it can be difficult to tell whether you are experiencing a panic attack or heart attack; however, knowing the difference can be life-saving. At communities like Metropolis Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, our experienced team is skilled in recognizing the signs of each and helping family members to do so, as well. No matter what the circumstances, education is the key to keeping your loved ones safe.

Can an Anxiety Attack Mimic a Heart Attack?

Especially for seniors who have never had a previous attack, understanding the difference between a heart attack and a panic attack can be hard. So, can an anxiety attack mimic a heart attack? The short answer is yes. And distinguishing between the two conditions requires weighing multiple factors, such as:

  • The Onset of the Pain. The way the symptoms begin may be a key to determining what type of attack is occurring. While both heart attacks and panic attacks can come on without warning, heart attacks can also be triggered by physical exertion.
  • The Characteristics of the Pain. While pain the chest happens during both heart attacks and panic attacks, there are differences. With a panic attack, the chest pain is usually localized to the middle of the chest and it is a stabbing pain. Pain in the chest from a heart attack is more of a squeezing pain and it can radiate from the chest to the arm, jaw or shoulder blades.
  • The Duration of the Pain. If you are having a heart attack, symptoms tend to last longer and worsen over time. With a panic attack, symptoms usually subside within several minutes.

In addition to wondering can an anxiety attack mimic a heart attack, seniors often wonder, “Can a panic attack cause a heart attack?” The answer to this question is no. A panic attack is an isolated event that is part of an anxiety disorder. A heart attack is caused by a blockage in one or more of the blood vessels to the heart.

How do Signs of a Heart Attack Differ for Older Adults?

At Metropolis Rehabilitation, our team focuses on recovery through care plans and clinical expertise. Older adults require a different level of care and monitoring and also have different risk factors that must be addressed. The Metropolis team accomplishes this through extensive rehabilitation services, IV therapy, advanced wound care, infectious disease care and pain management. However, all caregivers should be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack in the elderly.

The most common sign of a heart attack in an elderly person is sudden discomfort or pain in the chest. The pain typically lasts more than a few minutes and generally begins on the left side of the chest. The pain feels heavy and uncomfortable, and is often described as a squeezing pain. The poor blood flow associated with a heart attack may cause tingling in the arms or pain in the upper part of the stomach, the jaw or the neck. Other signs include dizziness, sudden sweating, nausea and vomiting.

While the signs of a heart attack differ for older adults, there are certain lifestyle risks that are common among both younger adults and seniors. To lower the risk of a heart attack, seniors should be aware of these risk factors:

  • High cholesterol
  • Being obese or overweight
  • Smoking
  • An inactive lifestyle
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Stress

Planning for Safety and Comfort

It is never too late in life to make healthy changes. Communities like Metropolis can support seniors in making and sustaining a healthy lifestyle through their amenities and skilled nursing staff. In addition to social and nutrition services, Metropolis Rehabilitation and Health Care Center encourages the residents’ healthy lifestyles through:

  • Support with activities of daily living
  • A secure community
  • Daily fitness programs
  • Personal laundry
  • Health education
  • Community re-entry program
  • Coffee bar
  • Housekeeping and linen service
  • A whirlpool spa

Contact Metropolis today to learn more about the services and support available.