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Understanding the Difference between Panic Attack, Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest

On a normal Tuesday afternoon in March 2021, I felt a pain in my chest unlike any other. Since it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, I wasn't sure if I was experiencing those symptoms but I remember I couldn't breathe and I felt incredibly lightheaded. I fainted as a result of a heart arrhythmia after learning I suffer from a condition called long QT syndrome. This basically means my QT interval in an EKG might be abnormally longer than others, which means my heart won't pump blood in the rhythmic matter it should to my brain. Many people in the United States suffer from heart arrhythmias so it's quite common to meet someone with one. Knowing the state of your heart's health is vital to living your optimal life so you can avoid triggers that put you in a vulnerable state.

It's never easy when you think you're having a medical emergency, and the symptoms of different problems can feel similar. A panic attack, heart attack, and cardiac arrest all affect the heart in some way, but they're all unique conditions with different causes, signs, and symptoms. After experiencing panic attacks myself, I'd like to walk you through the differences between these conditions, so you can identify them and understand how to seek appropriate medical care when necessary.

With the amount of stress in today's world, panic attacks can be quite prominent if we don't know how to handle the stress. But what is a panic attack? A panic attack is a sudden feeling of fear or panic that triggers our fight or flight response, causing physical symptoms such as sweating, shaking, and a racing heartbeat. Although it's not a medical emergency and doesn't put your life in danger, a panic attack can be scary and distressing. Some people have panic attacks without a known trigger, while others might experience them because of recent traumatic events or anxiety disorders. If you think you're having a panic attack, first immediately kneel or sit down to avoid a falling injury should you faint. Try techniques such as deep breathing, distraction, and mindfulness to calm down. But if you're feeling overwhelmed or have never experienced this before, you can still seek medical attention to rule out other issues.

On the other hand, a heart attack happens when a blockage in one of the coronary arteries cuts off blood flow to the heart muscle. This can lead to chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, dizziness, and other symptoms. A heart attack is a medical emergency and requires urgent treatment, as it can cause irreversible damage to the heart muscle and even death if left untreated. If you experience symptoms of a heart attack, such as intense and persistent chest pain that spreads to your jaw, neck, arms, or back, call 911 immediately and seek medical attention. Lastly, cardiac arrest is the sudden loss of effective heart function, which can cause the person to collapse and stop breathing. This condition can happen because of a heart attack, an abnormal heart rhythm, or other causes, and it can lead to brain damage or death within minutes.

Cardiac arrest requires immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation (a device that sends an electric shock to the heart to restore its rhythm). If you witness someone having a cardiac arrest, call 911, start CPR, and use an automated external defibrillator (AED) if available. Conclusion: It's essential to recognize the differences between a panic attack, heart attack, and cardiac arrest, as they require different treatments and responses. Knowing the signs and symptoms of these conditions can help you take preventative care and seek appropriate medical attention if necessary.

If you have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, or a family history of heart problems, you can take steps to reduce your risks and improve your heart health, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and managing stress. Remember, taking care of your heart is an act of self-love and empowerment.

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