Anxiety and Chest Pain | What You Need to Know


Can Anxiety Cause Chest Pain?

Yes, chest pain is often a physical symptom of anxiety.

Anxiety is one of the leading causes of non-specific chest pain (NSCP). For the estimated 40 million Americans living with an anxiety disorder, chest pain is a common, but understandingly a concerning sensation.

Because chest pain is also a symptom of heart attacks and other heart conditions, it is important to understand what anxiety chest pains feel like and how you may be able to improve your symptoms.

Feeling anxious, worried, or stressed is a normal part of life. These are typical reactions to the circumstances of our everyday lives. For those living with an anxiety disorder, however, the feelings of anxiousness and worry are not experienced in passing. Rather, such anxiety can inhibit the ability to complete ordinary or routine tasks.


Read: How Do I Ask My Doctor For Anxiety Medication?


Anxiety Chest Pains | What Do They Feel Like?

Anxiety symptoms are rarely the same from person to person and may present as a whole host of mental and physical reactions. 

Chest pain associated with anxiety may build gradually for some, or come on suddenly for others. As such, anxiety chest pain can be described as:

  • Persistent chest aching
  • Sharp, shooting pain in the chest or abdomen
  • An unusual muscle spasm or twitch in your chest
  • Numbness, burning, or a dull ache
  • Stabbing pressure

Causes of Anxiety Chest Pain

Can anxiety cause chest tightness? Chest pain may occur as a result of a panic attack. When you experience high levels of anxiety, your body releases adrenergic hormones like epinephrine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline.

This can cause a sensation similar to a surge of excitement, resulting in an energy boost, muscle tightening, a fast heart rate, and an increased sense of alertness.

If your heart rate climbs as a result of these stimulant hormones, it may beat so uncontrollably fast that it exhausts the muscles in your heart. Further, as the muscles in your chest tense up, the increased heart rate can create pressure and tension in the region. Such a combination can result in severe chest pain.


Related: Anxiety Quiz, Do I Need Professional Help?


How Long Does Anxiety Chest Pain Last?

Anxiety chest pains may last a few minutes to several hours. On average, they last 10 minutes and are typically felt during a panic attack and subside once it’s passed. Because symptoms vary so much from person to person, it is difficult to say how long chest pains from anxiety will last.

It is also possible to feel chest pain for a short burst of approximately 20 seconds periodically throughout the day as a result of anxiety.

Anxiety Chest Pain vs Heart Attack

Is it my heart or anxiety? The chart below can help you determine if your chest pain is caused by anxiety or a potential heart attack:

As in the chart, chest pain accompanied by other symptoms of anxiety is a sign that the pain is in fact a result of anxiety.

Symptoms of anxiety to look out for:

  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Blurred vision
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Trembling
  • Pounding heart
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Muscle tension
  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent urination or diarrhea
  • Excessive worrying
  • Fear
  • Anticipating the worst
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling tense or jumpy
  • Irritability
  • Performing certain behaviors over and over again
  • Difficulty completing routine tasks
  • Feelings of powerlessness
  • Flashbacks to traumatic events, situations, or people

What Does Shortness of Breath Mean?

Also found in the above chart, shortness of breath can have causes that aren’t related to an underlying disease or condition. For example, exercise, altitude, tight clothing, and a sedentary lifestyle can all lead to shortness of breath. 

However, shortness of breath while accompanied by chest pain may indicate serious health conditions, including a heart attack. If your symptoms came on suddenly, especially after exercise or other exertion, call 911 immediately.

Shortness of breath and chest pain are also two symptoms of COVID-19. Continue reading below to learn more.

Other Causes of Chest Tightness 

COVID-19

Chest pain is a possible symptom of COVID-19. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus and include:

  • Chest pain
  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

Chest tightness from anxiety or coronavirus?

Because chest tightness is a symptom of both the coronavirus and anxiety, it can be difficult to know what condition you actually have. Further, the pandemic is itself a source of great anxiety and stress in our everyday lives. 


Read: Coronavirus Anxiety


If you’re feeling chest pain, lookout for other symptoms that can help you distinguish between COVID-19 and anxiety. Chest pain and a cough? It could be the virus. Chest pain and dizziness? More likely that it’s anxiety.

GERD

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a long-term condition where stomach acid comes up into the esophagus. GERD is one of the most common causes of chest pain unrelated to cardiac conditions. 

Reflux related chest pain is less likely to feel like it’s coming from deep within the chest. People with GERD may feel temporary, severe chest pain when taking a deep breath or coughing. On the other hand, cardiac chest pain is constant and not contingent upon breathing patterns.

Muscle Strain

A strained or pulled muscle in your chest may cause sharp pain in the region. The pain may be acute, dull, or increase with movement and breathing. Strenuous exercise or activity may result in a chest muscle strain as well as intense bouts of coughing.

Pneumonia

One of the many symptoms of pneumonia is chest pain. Other symptoms to look for include:

  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Shaking chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shallow breathing

Asthma

With asthma, your immune system can cause your airways to become inflamed and swollen. This irritation can lead to chest tightness, pressure, and pain. Chest pain may occur before or during an asthma attack.

Ulcers

Ulcers are sores that develop on the lining of the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine. A burning abdominal pain may creep up from the stomach to chest as a result of ulcers.

Anxiety Chest Pain Treatment 

Wondering how to get rid of chest tightness? Anxiety chest pain may be treated with pharmacological or psychotherapeutic therapies. Depending on the severity of your anxiety, your doctor may recommend a combination of many treatments. 


Read: Treating Anxiety With Counseling


A psychologist may be able to help you discover behavioral and lifestyle changes you can make to reduce anxiety. A psychiatrist might write you a prescription for anxiety medication.

Selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines are two classes of drugs used to treat panic attacks and anxiety. These drugs are highly effective and are used to provide relief for those who suffer frequent panic attacks.

Note: while online doctors can prescribe antidepressants to treat anxiety, benzodiazepines are controlled substances and cannot be prescribed online.

Home Remedies

Home remedies for anxiety chest pain involve lifestyle changes that may help reduce your anxiety and its many symptoms.

  • Stay active. Regular exercise is great for you! Both physical and emotional help and has been proven to reduce stress levels.
  • Stop drinking. Alcohol is a natural sedative and may help calm the nerves. However, reliance on alcohol is an unhealthy and dangerous habit that fails to treat the root of your anxiety.
  • Stop smoking. Like drinking, smoking is often turned to during stressful times. However, smoking is a quick fix on a problem that requires comprehensive treatment. Like drinking, smoking when stressed may increase your anxiety in the long-term. Get help quitting smoking here.
  • Stop drinking caffeine. Caffeine can cause nervousness and jitters, and may also lead to panic attacks.
  • Get some sleep. Sleep is a critical tool for preserving your mental and physical health. Without good sleep, you will not be able to function properly throughout the day.
  • Eat healthy. Low blood sugar levels, dehydration, or chemicals in processed foods can cause mood changes. A healthy diet will improve your physical and mental state.
  • Deep breathing. Deep breathing is a common strategy used to help people come down from a panic attack or high levels of stress.

When to See a Doctor

You should seek immediate emergency help if you believe you’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack. Unlike anxiety chest pain, a heart attack is marked by a constant pain the chest radiating outwards that often begins as a result of physical exertion. For more details, see the above chart about the difference between anxiety and heart attack chest pain.

Feeling anxious is a normal part of everyday life and empowers us to be more alert and attentive during important moments. However, if anxiety inhibits your ability to live happily or complete routine and ordinary tasks, it’s time to seek help.

There’s no shame in wanting to improve your mental health, and more than 40 million American adults are also dealing with anxiety disorders. 

You can get anxiety treatment online by booking an appointment with a top doctor here.

What Can I Do To Feel Better if I’m Feeling Anxious and Scared About COVID-19?

Feeling anxious about COVID-19 is completely normal. The whole world has had to adjust to a new way of life, and millions have lost friends, family, and loved ones. If you’re feeling anxious about COVID-19, see above for our list of home remedies that can help reduce your anxiety.

What Number Should I Contact if I Have Stress and Anxiety Issues During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

  • Call 911 if you believe you are going to harm yourself or others.
  • To contact the Disaster Distress Helpline, call 800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
  • To contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 800-273-8255.
  • To talk to an online doctor about your concerns and to have your questions answered call 888-798-0620

If you’d like to speak with a doctor from the convenience and safety of your home, try setting up an appointment with PlushCare. Our doctors make it easy to schedule a virtual appointment where you can talk to your doctor about your symptoms, receive a diagnosis, and be prescribed the medication you need. Just click here to get started.

Read More About Anxiety


Sources:

healthline.com. Understanding Anxiety Chest Pain. Accessed on September 11, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/anxiety-chest-pain#symptoms

gurumd.net. How Does Anxiety Cause Chest Pain. Accessed on September 11, 2020. https://www.gurumd.net/anxiety-chest-pain/

healthline.com. 10 Ways to Naturally Reduce Anxiety. Accessed on September 11, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/natural-ways-to-reduce-anxiety#2.-Dont-drink-alcohol