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What is the Connection Between Anxiety and Chest Pain?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 07 December 2016
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Anxiety and chest pain are commonly found together. People with anxiety disorders can experience chest pain, as can people experiencing unique levels of stress and anxiety related to events in their lives. One problem with anxiety and chest pain is the tendency to grow more anxious in response to the chest pain, fearing a heart attack. This can cause the anxiety to get worse, increasing the chest pain and creating a vicious cycle. Physical symptoms of anxiety are fully treatable and it is important to be evaluated when these symptoms are experienced to confirm their cause and learn about treatment options.

It is believed that people in a high state of stress can experience chest pain for a number of different reasons. Sharp or dull pain in the chest wall can be caused by muscle contractions, a phenomenon seen in anxiety attacks, where people may feel an intense, momentary chest pain. In addition, stress can increase the severity of acid reflux, causing heartburn and chest pain. People with preexisting heart conditions are also more likely to experience chest pain when they are anxious or stressed.

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Patients may have trouble distinguishing between chest pain associated with anxiety and pain of cardiac origins. Anxiety-induced chest pain is usually brief in duration, while pain caused by heart problems lasts longer and can feel more crushing or intense. Numbness or tingling in the left arm can also be a sign of cardiac chest pain. Breathing is also usually normal during an anxiety attack, although the combination of anxiety and chest pain can make a patient hyperventilate from fear or nervousness.

If someone experiences chest pain, a doctor can conduct an evaluation to look for potential causes. People should make their doctors aware of any existing anxiety conditions or sources of stress, as this information can be important to have during an examination. There is a known link between anxiety and chest pain, and if a doctor knows a patient is anxious, this can inform the process of diagnosis.

In cases where anxiety is clearly causing chest pain, anti-anxiety medications can be offered to the patient. These drugs can be taken to prevent a panic attack or reduce the intensity of an attack. Psychotherapy and other measures can help people manage anxiety in the long term. Addressing the anxiety should help with associated physical symptoms like chest pain, nausea, lightheadedness, and dizziness. If a patient continues to experience anxiety and chest pain with treatment, a doctor may need to develop an alternate treatment plan to manage the patient's symptoms.

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honeybees
Post 4

My dad has a history of heart problems and has had a heart attack before. Any time he has any kind of sudden chest pain, he immediately thinks there is something wrong with his heart. I can certainly understand why he feels this way.

Once you have experienced something like this, you know the reality of it, and I think this can make you even more anxious about it. My mom probably even worries more about it than my dad does, but that also brings his anxiety level up.

John57
Post 3

@sunshined-- I think you might be surprised at the number of people who have chest pain because they are anxious about something. My son is an emergency room doctor, and he has seen this happen many times.

I think there is as strong of a connection between stress and chest pain as there is anxiety and chest pain. It seems like the two of them go hand in hand.

It is always good to have unusual chest pain checked out. Most people immediately think of a heart attack when this happens, but there are many other reasons for chest pain symptoms. Knowing what is causing the chest pain can really help lower your anxiety level.

sunshined
Post 2

One of the biggest causes of chest pain for me is stress. I may not feel like I am under a lot of stress, but when my chest starts to feel tight I know I am overdoing it. Whatever I am stressing out about isn't important enough that I ruin my health over, but I haven't found a good way to manage my stress so this doesn't happen.

andee
Post 1

I have experienced chest pain from heartburn, but one time it was so intense that I thought I was having a heart attack. I know there are several different chest pain causes, but possibly having a heart attack scares me more than anything.

If you aren't anxious before you start having the chest pain, you certainly are once the pain starts. I wound up at the emergency room because the pain was so persistent. I was relieved to find out it was not a heart attack, but I can sure understand how there is a connection between anxiety and chest pain.

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