Anxiety can manifest in various physical symptoms, one of which is chest pain. This type of pain can be particularly alarming as it often mimics symptoms of more serious heart conditions. This guide will show you how long chest pain caused by anxiety lasts, helping you understand what to expect and when it might be time to seek further medical evaluation.

How long does anxiety chest pain last?

The duration of chest pain caused by anxiety varies from person to person. It is influenced by different factors determining how long the discomfort lasts during a panic attack or anxious episode.

  • Short-term episodes: For many, anxiety-induced chest pain is brief, lasting only a few minutes. These short episodes typically occur during acute anxiety attacks, where the pain reduces as the anxiety attack subsides.
  • Intermittent pain: Some individuals may experience chest pain that comes and goes over several hours or even days. This type of pain can change depending on how stressed or anxious you feel.
  • Persistent discomfort: In cases of chronic anxiety, chest pain can persist as a dull, constant ache that lasts for extended periods. This can be more pronounced during periods of heightened stress.

Factors influencing duration anxiety-related chest pain

Several factors can influence how long the chest pain lasts and how it is experienced:

  • Intensity of anxiety: The severity of the anxiety episode can affect the duration of the pain. More intense anxiety can lead to longer-lasting chest pain.
  • Physical health: Underlying health issues, such as heart conditions or gastrointestinal problems, can worsen anxiety and chest pain, causing it to last longer.
  • Stress management skills: Individuals with good stress management techniques may find that their anxiety chest pain is shorter and less intense.
  • Previous episodes: Those who have experienced anxiety chest pain before may either become more sensitized to the sensation, potentially prolonging the pain, or they may develop coping skills that shorten its duration.

What does chest pain from anxiety feel like?

Chest pain from anxiety can often resemble symptoms of heart conditions. Recognizing the specific sensations associated with this type of chest pain can help you distinguish it from other medical issues. Let’s examine the details of these sensations:

Characteristics of anxiety-induced chest pain

The following are characteristics of sudden chest pain caused by anxiety:

  • Tightness or pressure: Often described as a heavyweight or tight band squeezing the chest, creating a constricting sensation.
  • Sharp or stabbing pains: These can manifest as sudden, sharp jolts quite different from the deep aches related to heart issues.
  • Burning sensation: This may feel like a burning or tingling in the chest, intensifying as anxiety levels rise.

Accompanying symptoms

Chest pain from anxiety usually comes with other physical symptoms that highlight its connection to anxiety:

  • Increased heart rate: This is one of the most common symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks. Anxiety can speed up your heart rate, making you feel as if your heart is pounding, intensifying discomfort.
  • Shortness of breath: Anxiety often causes rapid, shallow breathing, making breathing difficult and increasing distress.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness: Faster breathing during anxiety attacks can lower blood carbon dioxide levels, causing dizziness.
  • Sweating: The body’s response to anxiety includes sweating, which helps cool the body but can feel uncomfortable.

Psychological effects

The experience of anxiety-induced chest pain is closely connected with psychological factors:

  • Fear of a heart attack: Intense physical symptoms often lead to the fear of more serious cardiac conditions, heightening anxiety.
  • Panic: The onset of panic can amplify physical symptoms, making the chest pain more pronounced.
  • Anxious thoughts: Anxious thoughts can make the pain worse by creating a cycle that keeps going and increases the discomfort.

Duration and onset

Understanding when and how long anxiety chest pain occurs can help in managing it:

  • Sudden onset: This pain typically begins in response to acute stress or anxiety.
  • Variable duration: While sometimes short-lived, the pain may linger or recur over time, depending on stress levels.
  • Event-triggered: Specific events or situations that cause anxiety can also trigger this chest pain, showing how it’s linked to your emotions.

How anxiety causes chest pain

Anxiety causes chest pain through various physiological and psychological factors:

Stress response activation

Your body’s response to anxiety can trigger physical changes that lead to chest pain:

  • Increased heart rate: Your heart beats faster, which can cause discomfort or even sharp pain in the chest.
  • Muscle tension: Anxiety can cause muscles in the chest to tighten, leading to a squeezing sensation.
  • Adrenaline surge: The release of adrenaline, a stress hormone, can heighten your body’s stress response, contributing to chest discomfort.

Effects on your heart and breathing

Anxiety affects your cardiovascular and respiratory systems, which can manifest as chest pain:

  • Changes in blood flow: Increased heart rate and blood pressure during anxious moments can lead to chest pain.
  • Fast breathing: Rapid, shallow breathing can cause an imbalance in the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your lungs, causing pain or tightness in the chest.
  • Hyperventilation: This can lead to feelings of chest constriction and pain as your body tries to take in more air during an anxiety or panic attack.

Psychological impact

The mental aspects of anxiety can also contribute to the sensation of chest pain:

  • Focusing on the pain: Heightened awareness of bodily sensations can make you more sensitive to chest pain.
  • Stress cycle: Ongoing anxiety can perpetuate stress and lead to recurring chest pain.
  • Fear of heart problems: Anxiety about health, particularly fear of a heart attack, can increase feelings of chest pain.

Anxiety chest pain vs heart attack

Distinguishing between chest pain caused by anxiety and a heart attack is crucial, as both can present with similar discomfort but have different implications and treatments.

Characteristics of anxiety chest pain

Chest pain from anxiety includes several features that can differentiate it from heart-related pain:

  • Location: Anxiety-related chest pain often feels more generalized across the chest, not localized to one specific area.
  • Sensation: The pain is usually described as sharp, stabbing, or a tight-squeezing feeling that can intensify with heightened anxiety symptoms.
  • Duration: This type of chest pain can come and go, often lasting only a few minutes during periods of intense anxiety or panic attacks.

Signs of heart attack chest pain

Heart attack symptoms, including chest pain, have characteristics that set them apart from patients with chest pain caused by anxiety:

  • Location and nature: Heart attack chest pain is typically severe, located in the center or left side of the chest, and feels like an intense pressure or squeezing.
  • Radiating pain: This pain can spread to other areas, such as the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach, which is a significant sign of a heart attack.
  • Additional symptoms: Symptoms like nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, and cold sweats often accompany heart attack chest pain.

Comparing Symptoms of anxiety caused by heart attack and anxiety

When trying to determine whether chest pain is due to anxiety or a heart attack, consider the following comparisons:

  • Onset: Anxiety chest pain can occur suddenly but is usually triggered by identifiable anxiety symptoms. In contrast, heart attack chest pain can occur unexpectedly and increase in intensity.
  • Physical activity influence: Heart attack chest pain can start or worsen with physical exertion, while anxiety-related pain is more tied to emotional stress.
  • Response to anxiety management: Pain related to anxiety often improves with relaxation techniques, whereas heart attack symptoms do not subside with such methods and require immediate medical attention.

What are some anxiety disorders that can cause chest pain?

Not all anxiety disorders cause chest pain, but certain types are more likely to have this symptom, especially when stress and panic are involved. 

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder experience excessive, ongoing worry not limited to specific situations or objects. This constant state of tension can lead to physical symptoms, including chest pain.

Along with chest pain, GAD can cause muscle tension, fatigue, and restlessness, which may contribute to or increase the sensation of chest discomfort.

Panic disorder

Panic disorder is characterized by sudden, intense episodes of fear that can trigger severe physical reactions, including chest pain, which might mimic those of a heart attack.

Those with panic disorder might frequently experience bouts of extreme anxiety with symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath, and an overwhelming sense of impending doom, alongside chest pain.

Social anxiety disorder

While social anxiety is primarily associated with intense fear and avoidance of social situations, the stress, and discomfort it causes can also lead to physical symptoms like chest pain, especially in situations where the person feels scrutinized or judged.

The high-stress levels experienced during social interactions can manifest physically, causing symptoms that include rapid heart rate and chest discomfort.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, happens when someone has a strong, ongoing reaction to something traumatic they’ve experienced in the past. This can make them extra alert and anxious, which might cause physical problems like chest pain.

People with PTSD might react more intensely to things that remind them of the trauma, see dangers where there aren’t any, or have sudden, sharp chest pains when they’re stressed.

When to see a doctor for chest pain 

Experiencing chest pain can be alarming, and it’s crucial to know when it’s appropriate to seek medical attention, especially when it might be related to anxiety or mimic more serious conditions like a heart attack. 

Persistent or severe chest pain

If you experience chest pain that feels different from your typical anxiety symptoms, or if the pain is more intense and doesn’t subside with your usual methods to reduce anxiety, it’s important to see a doctor.

Frequent occurrences of chest pain, even if familiar as part of your anxiety, warrant a professional evaluation to rule out other possible causes.

Difficulty differentiating from a heart attack

Because symptoms of a heart attack can overlap with those of anxiety-related chest pain (like sweating, nausea, or pain radiating to other parts of the body), seeing a doctor can help you determine whether your symptoms are due to a heart attack or anxiety.

Always err on the side of caution. If you are unsure about the cause of your chest pain, seek immediate medical care.

Increase in frequency or intensity

If your chest pain becomes more frequent or severe, or if your usual anxiety management strategies no longer control your symptoms, it’s best to consult with a healthcare provider.

Any new symptoms accompanying the chest pain that have not been previously associated with your anxiety attacks should be assessed by a doctor.

Impact on daily life

When chest pain and anxiety start to interfere significantly with your daily life, professional medical advice can help you manage and reduce anxiety, thereby improving the quality of your life.

Continuous anxiety and chest pain can lead to further health complications, including chronic stress and depression. A healthcare professional can offer comprehensive treatment that addresses both the mental and physical aspects of anxiety.

Final thoughts

Experiencing chest pain from anxiety can be distressing, especially when the symptoms resemble those of a heart attack. Consulting a healthcare provider is crucial to determine whether your chest pain is due to anxiety or a more serious condition. 

If anxiety significantly impacts your life, our anxiety treatment program might help. We provide specialized support to manage both your anxiety and its physical symptoms.

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