Each year thousands of people are taken to the emergency room, by ambulance, for supposed cardiac events (Heart Attacks). Many of these people end up being diagnosed as having had a panic attack. Because a panic attack resembles a heart attack, it really is hard to tell the difference. But it is essential to be sure of the diagnoses, for the person’s overall survival depends on it. There are tests that can rule out cardiac disease, that should be done if you experience any signs and symptoms of a heart attack, regardless of your past history. Unfortunately, discrimination based on past history, age, and appearance cost people their lives every year, as they are misdiagnosed as having a panic attack, instead of a heart attack.
A heart attack occurs when blood supply to a certain area of the heart is blocked or cut off. This can occur for many reasons, such as plaque build up in the vessels, constriction of the vessels, etc. When the heart muscle doesn’t receive the necessary oxygenated blood, it causes and a myocardial infarction (Heart Attack). The only way to relieve the attack is by opening up the vessel, or bypassing it, to renew the supply of oxygenated blood to the muscle. There are indicators that you may be heading for a heart attack in the years, or months prior to the attack itself. Many people start to become short of breath on exertion, doing things that they have done normally without any problems. Many have had chest pain for years in advance of their heart attack, and thought it was indigestion. If you have a past history of smoking, familial heart disease, drug use, or high cholesterol, then you are at risk.
Some heart attacks are sudden with crushing chest, neck, mouth, left arm, and back pain. They include shortness of breath, and eventually loss of consciousness. Some attacks begin slowly, with mild chest and left arm pain. Eventually leading to shortness of breath, left arm numbness. mouth pain, and nausea and vomiting. The slow onset attacks can be confused with panic attacks, by the victims and by the attending health care workers. All chest pain and shortness of breath needs to be taken seriously, regardless of the history, or age of the person involved.
There are many reasons a heart attack could be confused with a panic attack. They include a young age, history of anxiety, history of drug use, or an overall nervous appearance. Many health care workers discriminate without even knowing that they are doing so. If your medication list includes anti-anxiety medications, or anti-depressants, they are more likely to view your attack as a panic attack. An EKG will always be done to rule out an immediate heart attack. The problem lies in the fact that you can have a great EKG, and have a heart attack two seconds later. So any chest pain needs to be treated “as if” it could be a heart attack, and that is not always how it goes.
To avoid being diagnosed too swiftly with a panic attack, try to stay as calm as you can. Bring a support person with you to the hospital to help you convince the doctor to do more cardiac tests. A stress test and an echo cardiogram should be done to rule out cardiac disease. If you still feel unsure after the results come back, then stick to your gut instinct and request a cardiac catheterization. It is a simple surgical procedure that can rule out cardiac disease positively. Most doctors will listen to patient who seems reasonable, and steadfast on their suspicions. The problem becomes that if a person is having a slow onset heart attack that they really cannot stay calm. The shortness of breath and chest pain cause a traumatic response in the patient. They become very emotionally labile, hard to understand, and cannot respond appropriately to questions. They can seem overly anxious and in a current state of panic. This can cause discrimination on the part of the doctor who has no history with this patient. Misdiagnosis is possible at this point. Having a lucid, attentive, and supportive family member or friend at your side, to act as your advocate, is the best way to ensure that the medical staff treats your signs and symptoms appropriately, and in a timely fashion.
After all misdiagnosis in this case could mean an untimely death to the patient.