During a panic attack, also called an anxiety attack, you may notice that your heart is pounding very quickly. A normal heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute, depending on your activity level, age and overall health, but during a panic attack, it may beat from 8 to 20 more beats per minute. For example, if your normal heart rate is 80 bpm, during a panic attack, you may experience a heart rate between 88 and 100 beats per minute. This sensation can be alarming, but most of the time it will resolve on its own with a half hour.
An anxiety attack is a temporary feeling of intense fear and panic. It may be brought on by a trigger that you can identify, such as a stressful situation or chronic worry, or it may come on for seemingly no reason. A panic attack can have severe symptoms that make you think that you are going to die or have a heart attack, and many times, people are consumed by fear that they will have another panic attack in the future.
If you feel your heart pounding during a panic attack, this sensation can alarm you and incite more panic. Other symptoms that may worry you during an anxiety attack include shortness of breath, sweating, stomach upset, trembling and feeling as though you might pass out. Sometimes this feeling can wake you out of a sound sleep, which is a condition called a nocturnal panic attack. Although most of the time your heart will slow down within 10 minutes, you may be unable to calm down and fall back to sleep.
Prevention and Treatment
In many cases, panic attacks occur without warning and are difficult or impossible to prevent. Sometimes, however, panic attacks may be caused by medications or anxiety disorders. Talk to your doctor about learning relaxation techniques that may help you to ward off a panic attack before it begins or when you first notice symptoms. Mental health counseling and medications may also help you if you are plagued by frequent panic attacks.
EurekAlert reported in 2008 that Europe's leading cardiology journal, the "European Heart Journal," found that people younger than 50 that experienced panic attacks or suffered from a panic disorder may be more likely than others their age to suffer from a heart attack. Although the risk is small, you should discuss the danger with your physician if you experience the pounding heart and other symptoms associated with anxiety attacks. One reason for the slight increase in heart attacks may be that some patients may actually be having heart palpitations caused by health problems and not suffering from panic attacks at all.
Is This an Emergency?
- Medline Plus: Pulse
- HelpGuide.org: Anxiety Attacks and Disorders
- MayoClinic.com: Nocturnal Panic Attacks--What Causes Them?
- Eurekalert: Panic Attacks Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Attacks and Heart Disease, Especially in Younger People
- PubMed: Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring in patients with panic disorder