Studies suggest that approximately 11 percent of the population suffers from general anxiety disorder at some point during their lifetime. Anxiety may be felt like a general but low sense of unease, or it may come and go in moments of stress. For some, anxiety involves panic attacks, events that can closely mimic the symptoms of a heart attack.
Because anxiety can coincide with rapid heart rate, abnormal heartbeats, lightheadedness, and chest pain, many people wonder if they are having anxiety, a heart attack, or if symptoms indicate an underlying heart problem. The question is, what comes first: anxiety or rapid heart rate? Here, we discuss some of the clues that may indicate that the heart is the root cause of symptoms.
- Both anxiety and the beating heart itself can lead to abnormal heart rhythms. The difference is that, when extra heartbeats in the upper and lower chambers are the cause of abnormal rhythm, symptoms may feel like an initial skip or hard thumping beat followed by a racing heart. When anxiety is the trigger, heart rate typically increases steadily rather than suddenly.
- Symptom pattern may also provide valid clues as to the origin of abnormal heart rhythm. Most people can identify the pattern of their beating heart, whether their heart started to race during a moment of stress or anxiety, or if the rapid heart rate or palpitations occurred “out of the blue.” In many cases, anxiety that follows palpitations is a straightforward clue that the heart is the primary issue.
- Secondary symptoms. Abnormal heart rhythm such as atrial fibrillation, if not treated, can eventually weaken the heart. This can lead to secondary symptoms such as swelling in the feet, legs, and stomach. Swelling can make it difficult to breathe when lying down flat. Anxiety-related rapid heart rate does not cause swelling and the symptoms that go along with it.
Getting a Clear Picture of Heart Rhythm and Rate
Cardiac health and anxiety are interrelated. Each can affect the other. The best way to get a clear picture of heart rhythm and rate is to monitor the heart for a period of time. This can be done with a heart monitor. A heart monitor is a small device that records heart rhythm day and night or during active symptoms. Capturing heart rhythm over several days or weeks, a doctor can accurately determine which comes first, anxiety or abnormal beats.
Do you have questions about cardiac symptoms? Contact Premier Cardiology Consultants at 516-437-5600 for assistance.