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14th February, 20203 min read

How do you know if you’re having a panic attack?

Medical reviewer: Healthily's medical team
Author: Georgina Newman
Last reviewed: 14/02/2020
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Think about how you felt the last time you believed you were in physical danger. Chances are you felt shaky, short of breath or nauseous.

A panic attack can feel similar to this, but it can strike with no obvious cause.

Panic attacks tend to come on suddenly. That intense feeling of fear may happen without warning, and the physical symptoms can feel so terrifying that some people who experience panic attacks believe they’re having a heart attack.

Yes, panic attacks can be distressing, but knowing how to recognise them and understanding how they work can help you to manage them better.

What are the signs of a panic attack?

Panic attack symptoms

The symptoms of a panic attack vary from person to person, but if you’re having an attack, some of the most common symptoms include:

  • trembling
  • sweating
  • chest pain or a feeling of tightness in the chest
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • feeling like you’re choking or having difficulty swallowing
  • feeling faint
  • tingling in the fingers
  • a faster heartbeat
  • hot flushes or chills

Can you die from a panic attack?

You may feel like you’re going to die during a panic attack, but you won’t. A panic attack isn’t life-threatening or harmful to your physical health.

However, see a doctor for guidance if you have repeated panic attacks as this can be a sign of panic disorder. This condition is fairly common, affecting around 1 in 50 people.

Can anxiety be mistaken for a heart attack?

People who have panic attacks sometimes say their severe anxiety feels like a heart attack, and the symptoms can be similar. With a heart attack you may experience:

  • dizziness
  • vomiting or feeling sick
  • sweating
  • a feeling of anxiety
  • pain in your chest and other parts of your body

The pain in your chest can be intense or more mild with a heart attack - or there may be no pain at all. If you think you’re having a heart attack, you should always call an ambulance.

For more guidance, read our article on what is a panic attack.

How to deal with panic attacks

There are things you can do to prevent a panic attack from getting worse and reduce your risk of having further attacks in the future.

If you need guidance, read this article on how to deal with panic attacks.


References:

Panic disorder [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 16 January 2020]. Available here.

Panic attacks | Health Information | Bupa UK [Internet]. Bupa.co.uk. 2020 [cited 17 January 2020]. Available here.

Are you having panic attacks? [Internet]. Nhsinform.scot. 2020 [cited 17 January 2020]. Available here.

Symptoms of heart attack [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 29 January 2020]. Available here.

Knott D. Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder | Symptoms and Treatment [Internet]. Patient.info. 2020 [cited 29 January 2020]. Available here.

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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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