What is the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack?

Alvin S. Haynes Jr., MD
Internal Medicine
An anxiety attack may sometimes feel like a heart attack, depending on your personal history. Learn the risk factors for both in this video of Alvin Haynes, MD, of Regional Medical Center of San Jose.
Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
Both a panic (anxiety) attack and a heart attack can cause shortness of breath, sweating, or dizziness. Below are some of the factors that help to differentiate a panic attack from a heart attack. (Note that anyone having these symptoms should seek immediate medical help.)

More likely a panic attack:
  • Sudden onset of fear or terror in conjunction with heart palpitations or chest pain
  • Pain and discomfort tend to occur in the center of the chest
  • Chest pain and other symptoms subside after 5 to 30 minutes
More likely a heart attack:
  • Gradual onset (over several minutes) of pain, pressure, or tightness in chest and upper body
  • Pain may occur in center of chest but may also radiate to upper body (arms, shoulders, or jaw)
  • Symptoms last at least 15 minutes without subsiding in intensity and may continue for hours

Continue Learning about Heart Attack

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.