Struggling with heart-pounding anxiety? You're not alone. Though your symptoms can also signal heart problems, experts say it's common for anxiety to ramp up your resting heart rate.
Anxiety and pulse can be directly tied to one another, says Shephal Doshi, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist and director of cardiac electrophysiology and pacing at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. "Anything that causes a release of adrenaline, such as anxiety, can increase your heart rate," he says.
People with anxiety can experience an elevated heart rate at rest, which is called tachycardia, which "means the heart rate is greater than 100 beats a minute," Dr. Doshi says. "There can be various degrees of tachycardia."
One type of tachycardia often associated with anxiety is called sinus tachycardia, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Sinus tachycardia may be the body's normal response to anxiety, fright and other common conditions, explains AHA. Although it's normal for people to experience occasional anxiety, others live with anxiety disorders, which involve persistent and overwhelming feelings of anxiety and often interfere with daily activities, the Mayo Clinic notes.
Anxiety Types and Treatment
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are five major types of anxiety disorders.
- Generalized anxiety disorder, which involves persistent long-term anxiety and exaggerated worry — even without much or anything to provoke it.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder, which entails recurrent undesirable thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive actions (compulsions).
- Panic disorder, which encompasses unanticipated episodes of extreme fear, alongside such physical symptoms as chest pain, being out of breath, heart palpitations, abdominal discomfort or dizziness.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder, which can develop after experiencing a horrifying event during which you encountered or were threatened by profound physical harm.
- Social anxiety disorder, which
is marked by feelings of immense
anxiety and extreme self-consciousness in common social situations.
If you think you may have an anxiety disorder, discuss your concerns with your doctor. As Mayo Clinic notes, anxiety disorders are treatable and can be addressed with therapy and medication. Common types of therapy for anxiety include cognitive behavioral therapy — a well-known, short-term and effective treatment in which you learn specific behavioral skills that may help improve your anxiety symptoms, Mayo Clinic explains.
Taking medication for mental health concerns is relatively common among Americans — in fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, recent surveys indicate that more than 1 in 6 Americans receive treatment with a psychiatric drug like a sedative or antidepressant.
Often used together with therapy, medication is generally safe and effective, and types prescribed can vary based on symptom severity and other individual factors and medical conditions, the association explains.
Is It Anxiety or Heart Problems?
Although anxiety and anxiety disorders are known to raise your heart rate, an elevated resting heart rate can sometimes signal heart problems, Dr. Doshi says. "It can be really just something as simple as stress or adrenaline release, which can occur from anxiety but can also reflect a short circuit from the heart," he explains.
Panic attacks and heart attacks can share very similar symptoms, including chest pain, rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath, according to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. If you're experiencing these symptoms, but are unsure of what they may mean, seek medical attention immediately.
How do you otherwise know when you should seek treatment for anxiety and an elevated heart rate? First, be sure to contact your doctor with your concerns because your doctor can help you determine whether what you're experiencing is anxiety-related or if other heart-related factors are at play.
"If it is simply related to anxiety, then I recommend seeing someone to treat the anxiety," Dr. Doshi says, adding that "one needs to make sure that this is related to anxiety because, oftentimes, people can have an abnormal heartbeat, which is often blamed on anxiety."
Is This an Emergency?
- Shephal Doshi, MD, cardiac electrophysiologist, director of cardiac electrophysiology and pacing, Providence Saint John’s Health Center, Santa Monica, California
- American Heart Association: “Tachycardia: Fast Heart Rate”
- Mayo Clinic: “Anxiety Disorders: Diagnosis & Treatment”
- Mayo Clinic: “Anxiety Disorders: Symptoms & Causes”
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “What Are the Five Major Types of Anxiety Disorders?”
- Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: “Panic Attack vs. Heart Attack: How to Tell the Difference”
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Medication”