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Anxiety or AFib? Understanding the Signs of an Irregular Heartbeat

AFib awareness monthIf you had an irregular heartbeat, would you be able to tell on your own? Or would you attribute the signs to something else, like anxiety, panic attacks or stress?

Many people often confuse the symptoms of a panic attack with those of a heart rhythm problem like atrial fibrillation (AFib). Study results published in the journal Heart Rhythm found this to be true. Specifically, the study found that a large number of participants either overestimated or underestimated their symptoms. Among those who overestimated, a majority were those previously diagnosed with an anxiety or depression disorder.

This means that people with anxiety may think they have signs of an irregular heartbeat, but it is actually their own anxiety or panic attacks that are causing the symptoms.

The study also found that participants who had atrial fibrillation may experience a positive feedback loop, resulting in heightened anxiety which leads to increased atrial fibrillation symptoms. For some patients, atrial fibrillation can actually trigger a panic attack.

“Sometimes, it can be difficult to determine which came first, the panic or the tachycardia [rapid heart rate],” said heart rhythm specialist John Day MD, in an Everyday Health article. “With a heart monitor we can usually determine if it is really a panic attack or an arrhythmia.”

One way to determine if what you’re experiencing is atrial fibrillation or anxiety is to understand both sets of symptoms. AFib symptoms may include:

  • Heart palpitations (sudden pounding, fluttering, or a racing feeling in the chest)
  • Lack of energy
  • Lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath, even at rest
  • While similar, anxiety or panic attack symptoms may include:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying

    You can see that panic attacks may exhibit more mental or emotional symptoms, such as feelings of unreality or a fear of losing control. These are the symptoms that set panic attacks a part from atrial fibrillation in most circumstances, but it’s still best to consult a doctor if you are unsure whether you may be experiencing anxiety or atrial fibrillation.

    Life Line Screening offers an atrial fibrillation screening for those who may be at risk, including those with high blood pressure, overactive thyroid, heavy alcohol or caffeine consumption, those who smoke, have extreme stress or fatigue, have heart disease, lung disease, sleep apnea or diabetes, and those who are obese. If this sounds like you, learn more about our atrial fibrillation screening and take a proactive approach to your health today.

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