Common Heart Issues That Can Mimic A Heart Attack

20 March 2015
 Categories: Health & Medical , Blog


If you're sitting in your chair and suddenly you feel your heartbeat jump out of your chest, your first reaction may be that you're having a heart attack. First and foremost, any sudden change in your heart rhythm or your health in general should warrant an appointment to your cardiologist or doctor. Most of the time, when your heart is flip flopping or racing, it is derived from natural causes and is not a reason for concern. Your brain on the other hand, steps into fight or flight mode. Here are some common and often harmless heart issues that may replicate a heart attack or heart problem.

Panic Or Anxiety Attack

The most common reason for a visit to the emergency room when the heart is beating fast is often due to a panic attack. Panic attacks affect around 6 million people each year. The symptoms of a panic attack often mimic a serious heart problem such as:

  • A sudden fear of dying
  • Sweating
  • Rapid and irregular heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness or feeling faint
  • Chest tightness and pain

A panic attack is your body's natural response to stimuli. It's caused from extreme physical and mental stress, but in some cases, there is no underlying cause. Panic attacks show similar signs of some serious heart conditions, so it's important to have a complete physical exam to rule out any endocrine, heart or other cardiovascular issues.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation or A Fib, is a type of heart condition in which the upper chambers of the heart, the atria, beat irregularly and don't coordinate with the lower ventricles. The symptoms of A Fib can often feel like a heart attack. A rapid heart rate is one of the first signs. The heart rate can easily climb over 200 beats per minute in seconds. This leads to shortness of breath and sometimes a sudden drop in blood pressure. If you don't have underlying heart disease, A Fib is generally not life threatening. Emergency care is often needed for prolonged cases of A Fib because blood clots can form in the heart which could lead to stroke.  

Ectopic Heartbeat

If you are either exercising or at rest and you suddenly feel your heart skip a beat or two, your first reaction may be to sit down and call for assistance. If you feel like your heart is skipping beats or stopping and then forming an extra beat, this is often referred to as an ectopic heartbeat. Ectopic heartbeat is an extra heartbeat triggered by an electrical pulse to the upper heart chambers. Most cases are not serious or life threatening, but they can be very scary and in some cases trigger a panic attack or A Fib. If your ectopic beats get worse over time or so severe that they cause tiredness, your doctor may perform a procedure called ablation to help reduce symptoms or control your heart rate with a beta blocker.

Innocent Heart Murmurs

An innocent murmur is the sound of blood flowing through the chambers, valves and blood vessels in your heart. They are often detected when your doctor is listening to your heart and lungs through a stethoscope. There are generally no symptoms of a heart murmur and you may not know you have one until you are examined by a doctor.

Heart conditions can range from anything that is minor to severe and the symptoms for many cardiovascular issues are similar to others. Having a complete cardiac work up from a cardiologist or electrophysiologist clinic, such as ICE, Institute of Cardiovascular Excellence, will help rule out life threatening heart issues and out your mind at ease.