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Woman sitting on couch holding chest from anixety attack

Can Anxiety Cause Chest Pain?

What Is Anxiety?

It’s perfectly natural for people to have occasional worry, dread, or nervousness. Your body naturally experiences anxiety in response to any threat, whether it is present or distant. Anxiety symptoms are common responses to stressful events in daily life.

Although occasional anxiety is normal, those with an anxiety disorder experience these symptoms more frequently. Approximately 40 million people are likely to suffer from anxiety problems each year. These people face more barriers to participating in many facets of life.

What Function Does Anxiety Serve?

Anxiety serves as a survival mechanism for humans by preparing them for immediate or anticipated threats.

The fight-or-flight reaction is an intrinsic part of anxiety. The human nervous system energizes the body to either face the threat or flee the threatening situation.

Anxiety becomes a problem when it is excessive and frequent enough to interfere with daily activities and diminish one’s quality of life. Individuals with a family history of anxiety and other mental health illnesses, as well as those who experience high levels of stress or early trauma, may be more prone to developing an anxiety disorder.

Can Anxiety Cause Chest Pain?

Chest pain is a common symptom of anxiety, mainly when panic or anxiety attacks occur. Anxiety sufferers can finally find some assurance in the knowledge that there is an explanation for this unsettling chest pain.

As your body and brain are trying to protect you from a real or imagined danger during an anxiety or panic attack, it can result in a variety of physical symptoms in addition to mental anguish. When we feel anxious, our body shifts into what we have already described as the “fight or flight” response, getting ready to help us fight against a potentially harmful situation. During a flight or fight response, our nervous system responds to the secretion of adrenaline and noradrenaline, which manifests through symptoms like tight muscles, raised blood pressure, a faster heart rate, and faster breathing, all of which can contribute to sensations of chest pain.

The sudden surge of adrenaline might affect the cardiac cells and restrict the arteries in your heart. Stress cardiomyopathy is a disorder that mirrors a heart attack from symptoms to modifications in your heart’s electrical activity.

Types Of Anxiety Disorders

As there are numerous types of anxiety disorders, symptoms can vary from person to person, depending on their exact diagnosis. The following are different anxiety disorder types:

  • Panic disorder is an acute fear that manifests physically as chest pain, breathlessness, heart palpitations, dizziness, or abdominal discomfort.
  • Agoraphobia involves avoiding events or locations that make you feel anxious or panicked.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) depicts constant worry, anxiety, and tension, regardless of the circumstances.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is marked by recurring intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive actions (compulsions). These compulsions are measures taken to stop or subdue obsessive thinking. However, the compulsions frequently only provide short-term respite and can exacerbate anxiety.
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) is characterized by intense nervousness and self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Some people may only feel symptoms while speaking in front of an audience, whereas others may do so whenever they are in contact with other people.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is triggered by severe or potentially fatal events one has experienced or witnessed.

Some people experience anxiety symptoms more frequently than others. In any case, there are always underlying panic symptoms resulting from nervousness, worries, obsessions, compulsions, or traumatic thoughts or images. These panic symptoms can also cause additional physical reactions.

Difference Between The Symptoms Of Anxiety Vs. Cardiac Chest Pain

Although anxiety-related chest pain and heart attack-related discomfort can feel similar, certain variations can help you figure out which one you might be experiencing. During an anxiety or panic attack, a burning sensation or either dull or sharp pain along with muscular pressure or tightness can occur. It can also cause numbness in certain areas. 

On the other hand, most patients who experience heart attack chest pain describe it as a tightening, heaviness, or agonizing sensation that spreads to their shoulders, arms, and jaws.

Additionally, there are variations in the onset and duration of the pain. Anxiety-related chest pain typically begins while the body is at rest and lasts for about 10 minutes (this can vary, though). On the other hand, chest pain from a heart attack usually begins gradually and worsens over time while the body is active. A heart attack’s chest pain has a similar tendency to worsen with exercise and last longer than pain brought on by anxiety.

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