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Anxiety Chest Pain

Published on May 18, 2022 and last reviewed on May 20, 2022   -  6 min read

Abstract

Anxiety can cause severe chest pain and discomfort, which is often confused with heart attacks. Read this article to know more about this condition.

Introduction:

Anxiety is becoming extremely prevalent in today's time. More and more people are getting affected by anxiety as a result of deteriorating mental health, stressful lifestyle and work culture, and unhealthy food habits. It is estimated that almost 275 million people are affected by anxiety disorders globally. This is equal to around 2 % of the total world population. Moreover, about 62 % of these 275 million affected people are women. Therefore, it is safe to say that women are more affected by anxiety disorders as compared to men. This is probably the world’s biggest mental health issue. In addition, chest pain occurring due to anxiety is the most common and complicated symptom of anxiety, which is often confused with a heart attack. However, anxiety and chest pain are potentially less harmful.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety can be defined as an unpleasant state of inner turmoil and a feeling of dread over anticipated events. Anxiety can also be the body’s natural reaction to a threat (immediate or future). Feeling anxious once in a while for certain things can be considered a normal reaction of concern and worry; however, if this feeling of concern and worry is experienced frequently along with some alarming signs and symptoms, then this condition is called anxiety. Anxiety can be triggered by common situations like being stuck in traffic, taking a test or interview, speaking in public, etc. Anxiety is often accompanied by nervousness, somatization of anxiety, and rumination (focused attention on symptoms of one’s distress).

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, separation anxiety, panic disorder, and phobia-related disorders (anxiety due to fear of something specific like height, flying, etc). Certain risk factors may increase the chances of someone developing anxiety; these include; shyness or feeling distressed in new situations during childhood, having someone in the family suffering from anxiety, exposure to stressful life, certain drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and certain physical health conditions like arrhythmia and thyroid problems.

Often there are several other mental disorders associated with anxiety that can exist as comorbidity (presence of two or more medical conditions in one patient), these include; depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorder, and personality disorder. Reports have suggested that almost 19.1 % of adults in the United States have anxiety and approximately 31 % of all adults experience anxiety at some point in time. The condition is more prevalent in females.

Can Anxiety Cause Chest Pain?

Yes, people suffering from anxiety have reported pain in their chest during an anxiety attack. In fact, one of the most common symptoms and complications of anxiety is chest pain. This chest pain is frequently described as a sharp and stabbing sensation that starts unexpectedly and suddenly when the person is feeling anxious.

What Does Anxiety Chest Pain Feel Like?

Anxiety-induced chest pain can be different from person to person, and this makes it difficult to understand the condition better. Some people experience anxiety-induced chest pain gradually, while others may experience it suddenly. Anyhow, the common symptoms of chest pain during an anxiety attack are:

Apart from these exclusive symptoms related to chest pain, the patient may experience the general symptoms of anxiety, which include:

  • Dizziness.

  • Fainting.

  • Nausea.

  • Feeling short of breath.

  • Trembling and shaking.

  • Unusual changes in body temperature like chills and hot flashes.

  • Sweating in hands and feet.

  • Heart palpitations.

  • Feeling helpless.

Why Does Anxiety Cause Chest Pain?

Anxiety is the body’s natural response to anticipated stress; when our body is under stress, it enters the typical “fight or flight” state, which helps the body fight against or flees from potentially harmful situations. The person can become aggressive or upset, depending upon the situation, and the body may tighten up or become tense. The body reacts in several ways during this fight or flight response. These include increased blood pressure, tachycardia (increased heart rate), tachypnea (increased breathing rate), and secretion of adrenaline and noradrenaline hormones. The adrenaline and noradrenaline hormones trigger a sudden rise in heart rate and blood pressure, which, in turn, causes profuse sweating, difficulty in breathing, and pain in the chest. The sudden elevation in the adrenaline levels causes the arteries in the heart to narrow; this condition is referred to as stress cardiomyopathy (this condition is very similar to the symptoms of heart attack).

Apart from this, anxiety chest pain can also occur as a result of the following:

  • Increased Heart Rate: This causes palpitation and pounding of the heart and coronary artery spasm.

  • Hyperventilation: Difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath can increase the levels of carbon dioxide in the blood.

  • Muscle Tension: Tightness in the muscles of the chest can also manifest as main in the chest.

  • Combined: Sometimes more than one of these physiological changes can act together to cause anxiety-induced chest pain.

How Long Does Anxiety Chest Pain Last?

Anxiety chest pain can last for up to ten minutes; however, other symptoms related to anxiety, like nausea, dizziness, and sweating, may last for a few hours.

How to Stop Anxiety Chest Pain?

Anxiety chest pain can be stopped only by tackling the anxiety. Certain practices and techniques may be helpful in coping with anxiety; these include:

  • Deep Breathing Exercises: Practicing deep breathing from the diaphragm can control anxiety by slowing down the heart rate and breathing rate.

  • Relaxation Exercises: Several relaxation exercises like meditation, writing a journal, visualizing, etc., can be very helpful in reducing anxiety by calming the brain.

  • Exercise: Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce general anxiety. Exercising regularly reduces muscle tension, increases heart rate variability, and increases the secretion of serotonin and other anxiety-reducing neurochemicals.

  • Getting Enough Sleep: Maintaining a healthy sleep cycle and getting enough sleep can help reduce anxiety by calming the brain down. The brain requires a certain amount of undisturbed sleep to function properly; this also ensures keeping a check on anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental disorders.

  • Limiting Alcohol, Smoking, Caffeine, Etc.: Excessive alcohol, smoking, and caffeine intake can trigger anxiety.

  • Using Smartphone Applications: Using a relaxation application developed especially for tackling anxiety can also be helpful in many situations. These applications often teach stress reduction techniques and exercises.

What Is the Difference Between Anxiety Chest Pain and Heart Attack?

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 someone’s life.

Can Anxiety Chest Pain Cause Heart Attack?

No, an anxiety-induced chest pain or anxiety attack cannot cause a heart attack because a heart attack occurs due to the presence of coronary heart disease (like a blockage in the coronary artery). However, stress and anxiety can play a role in developing coronary artery disease. In addition, certain researchers suggest that people with anxiety disorders have increased chances of developing heart diseases due to low heart rate variability (physiologic variation in the time interval between two heartbeats). A high heart rate variability indicates that a person’s heart rate shifts efficiently throughout the day while doing different physical activities. At the same time, a low heart rate variability indicates the inability of the heart to switch heart rate according to different physical activities.

Conclusion:

Although anxiety chest pain is not a life-threatening condition, it can cause some serious discomfort to the patient. Anxiety should be taken and treated seriously because it can adversely affect a person’s quality of life and mental health. If the anxiety attacks are frequent, then seeing a therapist or seeking cognitive behavioral therapy is highly recommended. The therapist or doctor will be able to teach coping techniques and mechanisms to tackle the condition.

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Last reviewed at:
20 May 2022  -  6 min read

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