Your heart is racing, you’re having difficulty breathing, you have pins and needles in your limbs, you can’t think straight–is it a panic attack?
Anxiety, specifically panic attacks, can mimic more serious illnesses, such as congestive heart failure.
Anyone who has suffered with panic attacks knows that it can feel like you’re having a heart attack, stroke, or dying. While an actual panic attack can be terrifying, it is not deadly. But, thinking you’re having a panic attack when it really is a life threatening episode can be deadly.
What compounds this situation and makes it even more dangerous is when those around you, knowing you suffer with panic attacks, don’t take your symptoms seriously. Their first reaction is to assume it’s just another anxiety eruption. This is where you need to use common sense and take cautionary measures.
The story of a woman who thought she was suffering from non-stop panic attacks for almost a month is a case in point. The woman had a history of panic attacks, but at this point in her life she already had an episode with a leaky heart valve. Her symptoms were shortness of breath and light-headedness when getting out of bed in the morning; she couldn’t breathe when she climbed stairs; she had a heavy funny feeling in her legs; she had an ache in her neck and shoulders; and her heart was racing.
Why weren’t warning signals going off in her head telling her to go to the hospital? Ah, the life and death question. No one wants to think she’s really sick. She especially doesn’t want to believe it’s a life and death situation. And, no one wants to go to the hospital.
Fortunately, this woman’s symptoms continued to get worse and she finally went to see her regular doctor. This was fortunate because if the symptoms didn’t worsen she may not have sought any medical attention and it would have been too late. It turned out this woman was in congestive heart failure.
This is such a common and dangerous scenario: once diagnosed with anxiety and panic attacks the individual and those around him or her don’t give serious warning signs the attention they deserve. This type of reaction delays, and even stops, the individual from seeking immediate medical attention. So, beware! Don’t recklessly treat common heart attack and stroke symptoms as panic attacks. Better safe than sorry.
Another common scenario is when doctors attribute anxiety-like symptoms, especially in women, to anxiety without ruling out other possible more serious causes for the symptoms.
What Can You Do to Have Your Symptoms Taken Seriously?
1. Don’t assume that doctors are always correct in their diagnosis.
2. If you’re told, “don’t worry, it’s just anxiety,” but you have a gnawing feeling that something else is going on, get another opinion.
3. If you’re still not satisfied, get a third, fourth and even fifth opinion.
4. It’s a good idea to write your symptoms down, so when you get to the doctor you don’t have to rely on your memory.
5. Try to be calm (not flustered) when describing your symptoms to doctors – having your symptoms written down will help in this area also.
Remember: It’s important to listen to your body.