How Panic Attacks Affect Your Heart Health

A panic attack is a sudden period of intense fear, apprehension or anxiety that occurs without warning and often for no apparent reason. A person may experience a rush of intense mental and physical symptoms, among which are:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling
  • Numbness
  • Chills
  • Hot flushes
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • A choking sensation
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling faint
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Stomach-churning
  • Pins and needles in the fingers
  • Shaking
  • Shivering
  • Sweaty palms
  • Depersonalization (feeling things are not real and like in a dream)
  • Feeling you are going crazy.

These physical and mental symptoms are often accompanied with thoughts of terror and fear that something bad is going to happen. For this reason people begin to fear the next attack, which creates a cycle of living in fear of fear and adds the sense of panic.

Most panic attacks typically last for 5 to 20 minutes. The maximum degree of symptoms occurs within minutes and may be so intense that can make a person feel he is having a heart attack. In fact, a panic attack itself is not dangerous, and the symptoms like shortness of breath and racing heartbeat won’t result in a heart seizure.



However, when you have anxiety your blood pressure increases, which may lead to a heart disease. Blood pressure rises during a panic attack due to the following two reasons:

  • Adrenaline release, which makes the heart pump blood around the body more rapidly;
  • Hyperventilation, which makes the blood vessels constrict.

This leads to significant increase in blood pressure and sometimes results in severe hypertension. Moreover, people who experience panic attacks, then start to fear that those attacks are putting strain on their heart that might be fatal. And while a panic attack cannot kill since it is not caused by a physical problem but rather a psychological one, people who experience attacks tend to have a constant ongoing feeling of worry about their physical health.

People with no heart problems have nothing to worry about. Those who can’t boast with good heart health do put strain on their heart when having blood pressure spikes. Therefore they should try to control their panic attacks as best as they can, but should also remember that even with heart disease a problem from panic attacks is very rare because when a high spike in pressure causes problems, it is generally not related to something like heart racing from anxiety. Spikes in blood pressure, such as when going for a run, are normal and our bodies are designed to handle them. The thing that does damage to our body and affects heart is stress, especially the long-term one. Frequent panic attacks are not healthy, in particular if you have a heart disease that is aggravated by stress. That is why it is important to control anxiety and beat stress.

As with any mental health condition, the exact cause of panic attacks is not clearly understood. The attacks may be caused by a combination of factors. Including:

  • Traumatic life experience
  • Brain chemical imbalance
  • Increased sensitivity to carbon dioxide.
  • Catastrophic thinking.
  • Genetics.

Depression, drug use, medical problems, psychological stress, hyperthyroidism and smoking can also trigger panic attacks.

Panic attacks are not treated specifically to protect heart. They are treated because they are detrimental to other aspects of life. The physical pain in the chest is palpitations one feels when a panic attack comes on. This doesn’t represent true damage to the heart, but is rather a reaction to the adrenergic surge that occurs during the attack. Therefore treatment is aimed at the underlying cause of panic attacks. If panic attacks happen out of a blue and a physical cause for symptoms is excluded, there are techniques to help control the symptoms in the short term. It is also important to recognize what thoughts are triggering attacks and how those thoughts can be challenged. That is where counseling, medication, muscle relaxation and breathing techniques come in. Don’t worry about being addicted to antidepressants – most of them are not habit-forming.

Teach yourself to focus on things you can control and worry less about those you can’t. This will help you live healthier and bring panic attacks to a stop.