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Why Patients with Anxiety and Palpitations Mistakenly Believe They're Having a Heart Attack

Patients with anxiety and palpitations often feel trapped, convinced they're having a heart attack. This misunderstanding results from a complex mix of psychological, physiological, and social factors, intensifying how severe they perceive their symptoms.


Anxiety I believe in today’s era, most of the person’s are anxious at some point or the other.


Overlapping Symptoms


A primary catalyst for this misconception is the overlap in symptoms between anxiety and a heart attack. Both conditions can present with chest pain, shortness of breath, and a rapid heartbeat. 


When individuals encounter these symptoms during an anxious episode, their minds often leap to the worst-case scenario - a heart attack. The fear of a life-threatening event intensifies their anxiety, creating a feedback loop that magnifies both the psychological and physiological dimensions of the situation.


Physiological Connection


The physiological link between anxiety and palpitations further contributes to this confusion. Anxiety prompts the release of stress hormones, like adrenaline, causing a faster heart rate. Palpitations, sensing one's heartbeat, can be a normal reaction to stress. 

However, individuals unfamiliar with this physiological response may interpret it as a sign of impending cardiac trouble. Heightened awareness of their own bodily sensations during an anxiety episode amplifies these perceptions, intensifying the distressing experience.


Social and Cultural Factors


Social and cultural factors also shape individuals' perceptions of their symptoms. The media's portrayal of heart attacks often emphasises dramatic chest pain, reinforcing the notion that any chest discomfort must be a cardiac emergency. 


Societal anxiety around health and fear of the unknown further contribute to the belief that palpitations signal a serious heart condition. This cultural conditioning fosters the association of any cardiovascular deviation from the norm with the most extreme outcome.

Individual Differences


Individual differences in how people experience and express anxiety play a role in this phenomenon. Some individuals may be prone to catastrophizing, interpreting situations as far worse than they are. For them, the combination of anxiety and palpitations quickly spirals into a belief that they are on the brink of a heart attack. Those with heightened interoceptive awareness may be more attuned to normal variations in heart rate, intensifying their anxiety.


In emergency settings, medical professionals often encounter patients seeking reassurance for anxiety-related symptoms and palpitations, fearing a heart attack. Distinguishing between anxiety-driven palpitations and those signalling a cardiac event requires a thorough examination, including a detailed medical history, physical checkup, and diagnostic tests like an electrocardiogram (ECG). 


Clear communication with the patient about their symptoms, the link between anxiety and palpitations, and the importance of ruling out heart issues can ease concerns and guide them to proper mental health support.




In conclusion, the belief that anxiety and palpitations signal a heart attack emanates from shared symptoms, physiological responses, societal influences, individual differences, and a lack of awareness about the mental-physical connection. 


Addressing this misconception mandates a comprehensive approach involving education, stigmatisation of mental health issues, and improved communication between healthcare providers and patients. 


Understanding these complex factors empowers healthcare professionals to better support individuals in managing anxiety and seeking appropriate care for mental health concerns.


This blog has been converted from the PR Article - Why do patients with anxiety and palpitations think they are suffering from a heart attack?


Dr. Rajneesh Kapoor
Cardiac Care
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