Hi. It’s Jenny at AnxietyBoss.com. Our question today comes to us from Scott in Reserve, Montana. Can an anxiety attack feel like a stroke?
Generally, the symptoms of a panic attack can feel more like a heart attack than a stroke. Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, are an acute activation of your body’s alarm system in the absence of a threat. We are all wired with what is called the “flight-fight-freeze” system. If there is a threat to our survival or something in our environment or our thoughts which we believe is a threat to our survival, we will experience dilated pupils, dry mouth, sweating, flushed or pale skin, a rapid heartrate, elevated blood pressure, hyperventilating, muscle tension, including tightness and discomfort in the chest and stomach, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, and also the urge to withdraw from a threat, engage the threat, or we may lock up and be unable to move.
Many people who experience panic attacks go to or are brought by ambulance to an ER, or emergency room, because they believe they are having a cardiac event or a heart attack. The symptoms of a panic attack overlap the symptoms of a heart attack, but the cause is very different. A panic attack is your body’s alarm system activated in the absence of a real threat like the smoke alarm that keeps going off when you’re cooking burgers on the stovetop. You know the house is not on fire, but the smoke alarm is insisting otherwise.
With a heart attack, a major blood vessel feeding the heart has become blocked. Blood and oxygen can’t get through to the heart muscle and the muscle begins to die. A heart attack is a life-threatening condition requiring immediate medical assistance.
A panic attack is very distressing, but it’s harmless. A stroke, also known as a cerebral vascular accident, is a blockage or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain. Stroke symptoms include sudden inability to produce speech, weakness, numbness or tingling on one side of the body, loss of vision in one eye, drooping of the eyes and mouth on one side of the face, and confusion. This is a life-threatening event which requires immediate medical assistance.
In any event, if you have any of the symptoms listed above, get medical attention immediately. Don’t wait and don’t second-guess yourself, and don’t minimize or deny that it’s happening. Call 911.
Minutes count for either a stroke or a heart attack, and at an emergency room, the staff will be able to determine quickly if you are having a panic attack or something more serious is going on.
If you have had the symptoms listed above in the past, tell your physician immediately.