When does anxiety chest pain become dangerous?

Having a heart attack is a frightening thought. It is therefore understandable that if you experience any discomfort in your chest you may consider the possibility of a heart attack. The truth is that many other conditions such as indigestion and anxiety may cause similar chest symptoms. How should you then know whether your chest pain is caused by an anxiety attack or by an approaching heart attack?

HeartacheHeart Attack

There is no way to know for sure that you are suffering from anxiety instead of a heart attack, but there are certain tell tale signs. If you are a man over the age of 45 or a woman over the age of 55 you have a higher risk of a heart attack than someone younger than you. Questions you should ask yourself before beginning to worry about a heart attack are the following:

  • Has any one in your family ever had a heart attack?
  • Are you a smoker?
  • Do you have high cholesterol?
  • Are you obese?
  • Do you stress a lot?

If you answered “no” to all of the questions above, then your chest pain is probably caused by anxiety. If you answered “yes” then it may be time for a check up at your doctor. A doctor’s visit is still a good idea even if you suspect that you are only suffering from anxiety.


You will probably become anxious right before some very important event, such as writing exams or meeting someone for the first time. Anxiety however depends on how your body works too. Hormones are present in your body during anxiety and the presence of these hormones causes you to feel differently from when you are not anxious. If you feel anxious for longer than necessary, for instance even after the meeting at work is over, then you might have anxiety disorder. Anxiety will cause tension in your head, neck, chest, shoulders and your hands.  Other signs may be headaches, an upset tummy, sweating and difficulty breathing. From this it is easy to see why people can confuse a heart attack with anxiety because their symptoms are so very much the same.

What will the doctor say?

When you visit your doctor he or she will probably ask the same questions as these above. He can also decide to do an electrocardiogram (EKG) to see if there is a blockage in your heart. If he thinks that your chest pain may be caused by a heart attack he can ask for blood tests, such as a myoglobin test. Once the doctor has ruled out a possible heart attack, he or she may prescribe you some medication to balance the anxiety causing hormones. If you do not want to take medicine for anxiety the doctor can refer you to a psychologist. A psychologist can give you cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation therapy to lower your stress levels.

Alternatively, you can try natural remedies such as meditation, hydrotherapy, yoga and acupuncture. Your diet may also add to you anxiety. Caffeine and sugar found in many foods and beverages can over stimulate you, and increase the possibility of an anxiety attack. Exercise can lower stress hormones in your body, so why not go for a nice long walk after work?


Nordenson, Nancy. “Myoglobin Test.” Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd Ed... 2006. Encyclopedia.com. (September 25, 2012). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3451601101.html

De Milto, Lori; Odle, Teresa. “Heart Attack.” Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd Ed... 2006. Encyclopedia.com. (September 25, 2012). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3451600743.html

COLIN BLAKEMORE and SHELIA JENNETT. “Heart attack.” The Oxford Companion to the Body. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (September 25, 2012). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O128-heartattack.html

Frey, Rebecca; Odle, Teresa. “Anxiety.” Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd Ed... 2006. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Sep. 2012 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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