One of the major panic attack symptoms almost every panic attack sufferer experiences is the racing heart sensation we know as palpitations.

The dictionary definition of palpitations is “a fast or irregular heartbeat.” It goes on to say “an irregular or unusually rapid beating of the heart, either because of a medical condition or because of exertion, fear, or anxiety.”

A palpitation is an uncomfortable feeling within the chest caused by abnormality of heartbeat that causes a conscious awareness of its beating, whether it is too slow, too fast, irregular, or at its normal frequency.

Palpitations that form part of panic attack symptoms are normally rapid, forceful, throbbing, or fluttering heartbeats usually rapid, strong or irregular enough to make a person aware of them.

Fired off from the subconscious via the autonomic nervous system, as part of the sympathetic nervous system response (see our Fight or Flight section), this uncomfortable and terrifying sensation is actually part of our bodies natural defences designed to protect us from danger. That’s hard to accept when you think you are dying, isn’t it!

We said at the beginning that this is one of the panic attack symptoms that nearly everyone has in common. Well, that means not everyone right? Wrong…

If you read what we said a couple of paragraphs ago, you’ll notice that we said that they are “usually rapid, strong or irregular enough to make a person aware of them.” But not always! Palpitations are a part of every panic attack; it’s just that some people remain unaware of them, because for some people, the other panic attack symptoms are so strong that they mask out the palpitations.

Palpitations are an integral part of panic attacks then, resulting from the heart responding to the changes in blood pressure brought about by the various stress response changes which occur during a panic attack.

One of the most helpful things we can do is to reassure you, that having palpitations during a panic attack does not mean that you have a serious disease. Also the chest pains you are experiencing as part of the panic attack, is probably just that, part of the panic attack, rather than a heart or chest problem.

Having said that, it’s always wise to seek medical assistance if you experience chest pains that are prolonged or move to your arms, shoulders, throat etc. As a rule if you experience chest pain that lasts for more than 15 minutes and is not relieved by rest or glyceryl trinitrate (GTN / nitroglycerin) (if you have been prescribed this by your doctor), then you should call for emergency help immediately. The medical fraternity would rather tell you “It’s only a panic attack, so there’s nothing to worry about” (haven’t they got a great turn of phrase when this happens!) that see you suffer a heart attack.

See also ‘About Us’, ‘Terms & Conditions’ and ‘Privacy Policy

All content is © copyright 2010