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Panic attack vs. heart attack: How to tell the difference

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Your heart is pounding. You’re sweating. You can’t breathe. You might even have chest pain. All of these are key warning signs of a heart attack. They’re also classic signs of a panic attack.

The anatomy of an attack

Although most heart attacks start slowly and worsen gradually, they can also be sudden and intense—just like panic attacks. They happen when blood flow to the heart is reduced or blocked. When this happens, it’s critical to get medical help as quickly as possible.

A panic attack, on the other hand, is a sudden rush of fear or anxiety that triggers your body’s fight or flight response. The physical symptoms are real, but there’s no actual danger. Most panic attacks peak within 10 minutes.

So, what should you do?

When in doubt, call 911. After all, a heart attack can be deadly and needs immediate care. If medical tests end up showing that your heart is healthy, you still did the right thing by getting checked out.

Dealing with frequent panic attacks

More than 1 in 10 people have a panic attack every year. About a third of those, or 3%, have multiple panic attacks without a clear warning or cause. When this happens, it can cause a cycle of fear and anxiety around having another attack. That can lead people to avoid things they fear could be a trigger, like driving or social situations. That can make it hard to function normally. It doesn’t have to.

Life without panic attacks is possible

If panic attacks are part of your life, treatment can provide relief in as little as a month with minimal disruption. Freespira is medication-free and completed in the privacy of your home.

See how Freespira works.

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Quick: What do you do if a panic attack strikes?