Every person gets anxious at a given time in their lives. Anxiety
is a normal human emotion that helps the body to run, hide or fight in case of
danger. For people with anxiety and panic attacks chest pain is among the
Some people have frequent anxiety experiences. These people
have both emotional and physical symptoms. Symptoms that are experienced in
anxiety are shared among several mental disorders and other illnesses.
Pain in the chest from anxiety is a common symptom of
anxiety attacks but is also connected to heart attacks and other heart
percent of the American population experience chest pains sometime during
Chest pain in anxiety also contributes to more anxiety. This
is because it is uncomfortable, frightening, painful in addition to the fear
for heart conditions.
Chest pain in people with chronic anxiety is manageable but
also in some cases you need to see a doctor.
How does anxiety chest pain feel like?
There are several anxiety
symptoms. The symptoms vary from individual to individual and in different
episodes of anxiety or panic attacks.
Most of the symptoms of anxiety are shared with other
Anxiety chest pain also has different manifestation in
different people. It may have gradual in nature in some individuals while
others experience instantaneous pain.
Anxiety chest pain exhibits itself in the following ways:
- Chest tightness or a tense chest
- A sharp, spurting pain
- Continual pain in the chest
- Abnormal muscle spasm/ twitch in the chest
- Piercing pressure
- A sweltering or blunt ache
If you experience anxiety chest pain for the first time, you
may think that you are suffering from a heart attack.
Anxiety chest pain
vs heart attack
There are several similarities between pain in the chest
from anxiety and pain in the chest from heart conditions. Both present with an increased
heart rate/ palpitations, sweating, feelings of unreality, numbness of
extremities, dizziness, vertigo, trembling and fainting.
However, there are the following differences in symptoms
between the two:
- Time of development: Majorly anxiety chest pain
occurs during rest while heart attacks happen often during periods where you
- Sharpness: Pain in the chest from anxiety
attacks in most cases feel sharper and normally lasts for 5-10 seconds as
compared to heavy pressure, squeezing chest pain from heart attacks.
- Location and spread in the body: chest pain from
anxiety in most instances remain localized in the chest while heart attack pain
spread to other body parts like arms, jaw, and other extremities.
- Speed of development and the period they last:
In most instances anxiety chest pains develop rapidly and disappear quickly.
Anxiety chest pains in most instances only last for 10 minutes. Heart attacks
chest pain develop more gradually with increase in pain as time progresses.
- Shortness of breath. It is experienced in heart
attacks but is rarely experienced in anxiety chest pain.
- Gender comparison: Anxiety disorders are more
common in women while heart attacks are more prevalent in men. Prevalence of
anxiety disorders in women
is higher (23.4%) as compared to 14.3% in men. According to research
men are twice as likely to have a heart attack as compared to women
through-out their lifetimes.
studies have shown a relation between the development of heart attacks in
people diagnosed with anxiety disorders especially panic disorder.
What causes chest pains in anxiety?
During the anxiety moments, the brain produces chemicals
that influence the fight-or-fight response to the stimuli. This response is
both physical and psychological changes.
The fight-or-flight response includes physical responses
like tense muscles, increase in heart rate, sweating among others. The pain in
the chest from anxiety may be caused by mechanisms in either the cardiac system
or not related to the cardiac system.
The body in people without chronic anxiety, is able to recuperate
fully within 30 minutes. However, in people with anxiety disorders full
recuperation does not take place.
The lack of recuperation makes the muscles hypersensitive
leading to muscle tension. When the chest muscles are consistently tense, they
In addition to the chest muscles tension, the heart rate
increases during anxiety. With anxiety disorders, the heart rate may become
stronger. In addition, there are coronary artery spasms associated with
increased anxiety, more resistance of small blood vessels in the heart, blood
pressure increases and because the heart is pumping faster there is an increase
in oxygen demand.
Other non-cardiac mechanisms that can cause chest pain in
anxiety include low carbon dioxide levels in the blood due to hyperventilation
and irregular contractions in the esophagus. Low carbon dioxide levels
(respiratory alkalosis) in the body results in the following symptoms:
- Having hand shivers.
- Twitching of the
- Nausea and in some
- Numbness in the
extremities and face.
- Protracted muscle contractions
Combining the cardiac and non-cardiac mechanisms may cause
the unfamiliar pain in the chest.
How Long does Anxiety
Chest Pain Last?
The anxiety chest pain in most instances lasts for
approximately 10 minutes. This is in people without regular anxiety attacks.
In people with regular anxiety attacks like panic attacks,
anxiety can cause chest pain every day. Due to frequency of chest pain in
people with regular anxiety attacks, some people may feel like they have anxiety chest pain/ tightness
symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks can last for longer, sometimes up to an
hour. Some of the common symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks include:
- Panic, fear, and uneasiness
- Sleep problems
- Memory problems
- Irritability and inability to stay calm and still (restlessness)
- Cold, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet
- Shortness of breath and anxiety chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Dry mouth
- Tense muscles and getting fatigued easily
- Dizziness, or faintness
- Feeling of detachment
attacks is seen in fast onset panic attacks whereas in slow developing panic
attacks only 10% of patients experience anxiety chest pains.
Treatment for anxiety chest pain
Chest pain caused by anxiety can be treated by preventing
anxiety attacks or curing the anxiety attacks when they occur.
There are 3 major ways of treating anxiety disorders:
- Medication and
- Home remedies/ practices to cope with anxiety
Psychotherapy is also referred as the talk therapy where one
is given skills to recognize and diffuse anxiety disorders thoughts and behaviors
early or to prevent them.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) including transdiagnostic
treatment of emotional disorders have proven to be very effective in treating
The approach is a collaborative one between the mental
disorders specialist and the patient that is done in several sessions. They
help in prevention, reduction or management of anxiety symptoms without the use
- Anxiolytics and antidepressants like Selective
serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors,
benzodiazepines among others.
These drugs are primarily used for depression.
Most of them target neurotransmitters involved in stress.
They are used as anxiolytics because of the
side effects of antidepressants. They are used as mood stabilizers for people
with anxiety in an ‘off label’ way.
Other medications include first generation antihistamines and GABA.
Using medications for chest pains caused by anxiety should
be guided by a doctor. This is because a doctor will be able to advise on the
best drug for anxiety chest pains, their side effects, contraindications and
There are several practices that can help in anxiety
disorders. These life-hacks improve the quality of life by preventing or
relieving the symptoms of anxiety.
Some of the tips include:
negative about the moods and expectations of improving the health is a common symptom
in most anxiety disorders. Trying to be positive is also hard in case of anxiety
is also quite difficult.
one can become positive by painting a picture in your brain of the serene and
peaceful picture of the place that calms you can be of much help.
addition, being proud of yourself can help you to become positive. That is by
not beating yourself up when you don’t become the best.
Deep breathing in case of anxiety chest pain can be of much
help to relieve the anxiety. The deep breaths calm the body and brain. The deep
breathing can be accompanied by counting to 10 to help focus the body on something
Accept that stress is temporary and may not be as bad as you imagine
Nobody in the world has control over everything that he
faces. As a person suffering from anxiety, the stressing situation will most definitely
The stressing situation as said in most phrases ‘what doesn’t
kill you makes you stronger’. The stressing situation may not be as bad as your
brain registers and after the ordeal you will come out stronger.
Anxiety can be quite stressing when you are not doing
anything. To get relief from anxious moments, try and be active. Activity helps
to distract your brain from the stressing situation.
If you have work to do, be engrossed in the work and if you
do not have work to do, volunteer where possible.
Exercise, sleep and diet
Being proactive about the things that contribute to good
health can help in relieving the anxiety.
Exercise helps in regulation of brain chemicals and also
enables you to sleep. Anaerobic exercises also help in blood flow and thus
enable the muscles to remain healthy.
Good sleep every night helps to balance the brain chemicals
and the rest enables rejuvenation of the body too.
A balanced meal every day helps to provide the body with all
the required nutrients for growth, repair, energy and rejuvenation.
Minimize the use of caffeine, smoking, alcohol and other drugs
The three commonly abused substances are some of the main contributors
to anxiety disorders. The three should be taken in moderation or avoided completely
in the case of drugs.
Caffeine and smoking may increase the heart rate even more
increasing the pain caused by anxiety.
Practice relaxation techniques
During stressing times, it is good to learn how to relax and
calm your body and brain. To relax, you can practice yoga, meditation, get a
massage or listen to your favorite music.
There are also some relaxation apps that can guide you on
how to relax.
It is good to know some of the symptoms of anxiety including
chest pains. This will go a long way in knowing that it is chest pain caused by
anxiety and not a heart attack.
Anxiety chest pains can be treated. Can be done using the
common anxiety disorders treatment methods like psychotherapy, medications and
In anxiety chest pains, it is also good to see a doctor to
get an evaluation of whether you have an anxiety disorder or even a heart