Cedars-Sinai Blog

Is It a Heart Attack or a Panic Attack?

Panic attack,heart attack, shortness of breath, palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, vertigo, feelings of unreality, numbness of hands and feet, sweating, fainting

Panic attacks and heart attacks share symptoms, but have different treatments.

You suddenly feel chest pain, shortness of breath, and a tingling sensation running through your body.

Is it a heart attack? Or a panic attack?

The two can feel very similar.

To help us differentiate between a heart attack and a panic attack—and know how best to handle both—we talked to Dr. Sam Torbati, co-chair and medical director of the Ruth and Harry Roman Emergency Department.

What are some of the symptoms of a panic attack that also occur during a heart attack?

Dr. Torbati: Unfortunately, there is great crossover between the symptoms of panic attack and heart attack, making it very challenging to discern between the two without a physician assessment and testing, such as an EKG.

Common symptoms that may affect patients with either a panic or heart attack include chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, passing out, tingling, or a sensation of impending doom.

These shared symptoms of heart and panic attack may also be caused by other serious conditions such as blood clots, lung infection or collapse, or tear in the large vessels of the chest for patients with certain pre-existing risk factors. So when in doubt, seek immediate medical attention.

What are some symptoms that occur during a panic attack that DO NOT suggest someone is having a heart attack?
How do you recommend people handle panic attacks? Go to the emergency room? Urgent care? Rest at home?

When should people go immediately to the emergency room? What are these symptoms?