Understanding Anxiety Chest Pain

Overview

Feeling worried, fearful, or nervous from time to time is quite normal for most people. These are typical reactions to atypical moments in everyday life.

Some people experience anxiety frequently. Symptoms can move beyond feelings of concern or worry to other physical reactions. Occasionally, these symptoms are mistakenly associated with other conditions.

As an example, chest pain is sometimes a symptom of anxiety. Often the result of a panic attack or heightened reaction, chest pain is a concern because of the possible connection to heart attacks and other heart conditions.

If you experience frequent anxiety, learning to understand your chest pain can help you find symptom relief and identify when you need additional medical help.

What anxiety chest pain feels like

Anxiety symptoms are rarely the same from person to person. Some days, symptoms aren’t even the same for the same person. Anxiety presents itself in a variety of ways, and that makes detecting or understanding symptoms difficult.

Chest pain associated with anxiety feels different for each person. Some people may experience chest pain on a gradual basis. For others, the pain may be sudden and unexpected. Anxiety chest pain can be described as:

  • sharp, shooting pain
  • persistent chest aching
  • an unusual muscle twitch or spasm in your chest
  • burning, numbness, or a dull ache
  • stabbing pressure
  • chest tension or tightness

If you don’t have a history of chest pain with anxiety, you may be alarmed. Many people assume they’re having a heart attack and go to the hospital’s emergency department for treatment.

Read more about the warning signs of a heart attack »

In one studyTrusted Source, researchers found that anxiety disorder was prevalent among people with nonspecific chest pain (NSCP). NSCP is described as atypical chest pain with other symptoms that aren’t the result of a cardiac event.

If you visit a hospital emergency room and the doctors don’t find a specific cause for your chest pain, consider consulting with your doctor about other possible causes, including anxiety.

Anxiety chest pain vs. heart attack chest pain

Chest pain can be a warning sign for a heart attack. Here are some tips to help you determine if your chest pain is caused by anxiety or a heart attack:

Symptom Heart attack Anxiety
chest pain brought on by exertion
chest pain while at rest
increased heart rate
chest pain that accompanies anxiety
constant chest pain
sharp, stabbing chest pain that only lasts 5–10 seconds
shortness of breath
radiating pain that travels from your chest to other areas, like your arms or jaw

If you suspect you may be having a heart attack, call your local emergency services. They can evaluate you and determine whether you’re having a cardiac event or if there’s another reason for your chest pain.

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