Home Blog

Can Anxiety Cause Chest Pain?

Anxiety-induced chest pain
Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology
Reviewer:

Dr. Bradley Noon

MD

Content

Medical Disclaimer
The medications listed on this website are provided for informational purposes only. Their inclusion does not guarantee that they will be prescribed to any individual, as treatment decisions are ultimately at the discretion of healthcare providers. This list is not exhaustive, and healthcare providers may prescribe other medications, including non-stimulant options, based on the patient’s unique health circumstances and needs.Read more

Sudden chest pain is typically a concerning symptom, often associated with cardiac problems like heart attacks. However, it can also be caused by other conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder or panic attacks.

Because of the perceived risk of heart attack, it is essential to see a doctor if you experience chest pain. However, if you have an anxiety disorder or a panic disorder, it’s also important to know the difference between chest pain caused by heart issues and anxiety. This knowledge will help you better recognize the symptoms and know how to cope with them.

Note: If you have crushing or persistent chest pain, immediately contact your doctor or seek emergency medical care.

The symptoms of anxiety can be managed. Consult with MEDvidi professionals to get the most suitable personalized treatment.

Prevalence of Anxiety-related Chest Pain

Research data indicate that approximately 30% to 50% [1*] percent of chest pain cases unrelated to heart issues are considered to be linked to anxiety disorders.

The prevalence of chest pain developed because of anxiety is higher than previously thought. According to a study [2*] , 25% of people who came to the emergency department with chest pain appeared to have a panic disorder. A 2019 study placed the incidence of chest pain in people with anxiety attacks at 28.5%. [3*]

What Does Chest Pain From Anxiety Feel Like

Anxiety-induced chest pain can manifest in several ways. It can feel like pressure or tightness on the chest as if something is constricting it. Some people describe it as a heavy weight on the chest or a squeezing sensation. The body’s stress response prompts the release of stress hormones, which can affect [4*] the cardiovascular system and result in this type of chest pain.

Others may feel sharp or stabbing pains. The pain may also radiate to the jaw, back, arms, or neck, which can resemble the symptoms of a heart attack. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that chest pain linked with anxiety is usually short-lived and commonly triggered by increased stress or panic.

How Does Anxiety Cause Sharp Chest Pain

The link between sharp chest pain and anxiety can be found in the brain and the body’s mechanism to protect you. Anxiety is a standard way your body responds to a perceived stressor, whether real or imagined. In this state, the body’s stress hormones get you in a fight-or-flight mode to prepare to battle or run away from the perceived threat. Several physiological processes linked to this response can cause acute chest pain. These include:

  • Increased heart rate. The high heart rate causes a feeling of pounding in the chest. It also causes coronary artery spasms and heart palpitations resulting in varying forms of pain.
  • Increased blood pressure. High blood pressure can heighten the demand for oxygen, placing an extra strain on the small blood vessels because the blood flow increases, causing pain.
  • Muscle tension. Stress often manifests itself through tensing muscles, which can result in tightening muscles in the chest.
  • Hyperventilation. This often happens due to shortness of breath, which can affect carbon dioxide levels in the blood. Low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood result in tingling and lightheadedness.

How to Tell If Anxiety Is Causing Chest Pain

Chest pain is one of the panic attack symptoms but it can also be caused by another anxiety disorder. Chest pain may develop gradually or occur all at once. It is, however, more common for chest pain to occur during sudden panic attacks or after prolonged periods of severe anxiety. It’s important to watch for other anxiety symptoms, such as:

Do you experience anxiety frequently? Get professional advice and a personalized anxiety treatment plan at MEDvidi.

Anxiety Chest Pain vs Heart Attack Chest Pain

Anxiety-related chest pain and heart attack symptoms may appear quite similar but they differ in many ways.

Aspect

Chest pain because of anxiety

Chest pain because of a heart attack

Location

Typically felt in the center of the chest and usually stays in one place.

Usually felt in the middle or left side of the chest, with possible spread to the jaw, left arm, or neck.

Pattern of pain

Acute, sharp, or hurting, could be periodic or ongoing.

The sensation of pressure, tightness, and squeezing; frequently enduring.

Duration of pain

Shorter in duration. Usually lasts between 10 to 30 minutes.

May last up to several hours.

Triggers

Stress, anxiety attack, or panic attack.

Physical exertion; sometimes may happen during rest.

Accompanying symptoms

Hyperventilation, dizziness, and irritability.

Sweating, nausea, and breathlessness.

Relief

Usually gets better with rest or relaxation.

Usually not eased by rest.

The above-mentioned comparison is general and cannot replace a consultation with a medical doctor. Consult your clinician if you have disturbing symptoms and suspect heart problems.

How to Relieve Chest Tightness from Anxiety

If based on a consultation with your healthcare provider you know that your chest pain is a sign of acute anxiety, you can refer to some of the following techniques.

Deep Breathing

Taking focused deep breaths can calm your mind and body. Deep diaphragmatic breathing [5*] helps slow your breathing and heart rate, reducing anxiety and panic, which consequently helps you deal with chest pain from anxiety.

Relaxation Exercises and Meditation

Meditation and journaling help calm your mind and brain and slow down anxious thoughts. Positive visualization can also help you handle stressful situations you cannot avoid. In addition to self-led meditations, you can use numerous apps with on-demand audio explanations of exercises, many of which are free.

Regular Exercise

Physical activity has shown effects in reducing anxiety [6*] or even preventing its episodes, also reducing the risk of chest pain. Further regular exercise can help distract you from ruminations, decrease muscle tension, and increase serotonin levels.

Sufficient Sleep

Lack of sleep is linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. You should sleep 7-9 hours to maintain optimum performance and good health, including reduction of anxiety symptoms.

Limited Use of Caffeine, Nicotine, and Alcohol

These substances may appear to have a relaxing effect, but research [7*] states that they worsen anxiety attacks. You may start by monitoring your anxiety levels once you start to limit the intake.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you are experiencing chest pain, get medical help right away, especially if:

  • It’s intense and prolonged.
  • It spreads over the back, jaw, neck, and arms.
  • It is accompanied by sweating, nausea, and discomfort.
  • You have a history of heart problems or risk factors.
  • Pain is brought on by exertion.

In Conclusion

If you experience chest pain accompanied by anxiety symptoms, then it is highly likely caused by anxiety or panic attacks. However, it’s crucial to see a healthcare provider if you feel anxious about any psychological or physical symptoms.

It’s also important to treat anxiety if you get diagnosed with it. Medical providers at MEDvidi are ready to create a personalized plan for you, including medication (if deemed necessary) and recommendations on lifestyle changes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Stress can worsen chest pain. When we experience stress, anxiety or panic, our body releases hormones that can increase blood pressure and heart rate and cause muscle tension, particularly in the chest muscles. This can lead to pain or discomfort in the chest.
It is possible for some individuals to experience chest pain daily due to anxiety. This recurring discomfort in the chest can be a result of ongoing physiological reactions and chronic muscle tension triggered by stress and anxiety. However, it is crucial to differentiate anxiety-related chest pain from other potential medical conditions.
Chronic stress, unresolved emotional issues, or recurrent anxiety triggers can result in unrelenting fear and chest pain. However, remember that prolonged chest pain can be caused by heart problems, so consider consulting a medical provider.
While prolonged anxiety and stress can cause chest pain, it’s essential to monitor its duration and severity and seek medical attention to rule out other potential causes and ensure proper care.

Sources

hide
7 sources
  1. Anxiety disorders and the syndrome of chest pain with normal coronary arteries: prevalence and pathophysiology
    Source link
  2. Panic Disorder and Chest Pain: Mechanisms, Morbidity, and Management
    Source link
  3. The prevalence of panic disorder and its related factor in hospitalized patients with chest pain and normal angiography
    Source link
  4. Mental Stress and Cardiovascular Health—Part I
    Source link
  5. Effects of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Health: A Narrative Review
    Source link
  6. Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety
    Source link
  7. Caffeine Intake and Mental Health in College Students
    Source link
Show more
Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology
Reviewer:

Dr. Bradley Noon

MD
Share
Tags

Content

Prioritize your mental well-being

Consult a healthcare professional online and receive a treatment plan tailored to your needs.

Recommended Articles

Join our newsletter

Sign up to receive mental health news and tips delivered right in your inbox every month.

EXPERIENCE GENUINE AND PROFESSIONAL MENTAL HEALTH CARE - YOU DO DESERVE THE BEST.

Evidence Based

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts.

Our team of experts strive to be objective, unbiased, honest and to present both sides of the argument.

This article contains scientific references. The numbers
in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.