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Heads up: Before attempting any self-management techniques shared below for anxiety-related chest pain, it is essential to first consult with a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying medical conditions and ensure that the pain you’re experiencing isn’t a sign of a more serious issue. 

Stress and anxiety are relentless, with the fast-paced rhythm of our lives often leading to racing thoughts and, suddenly, chest tightness.

Sometimes, this tightness can be fleeting, but other times, it lasts for a few minutes and can even make us fear for our lives.

But can anxiety cause chest pain, or are there other factors to consider? Let’s delve into official sources to understand the connection between anxiety and chest discomfort. 

Can Anxiety Cause Chest Pain?

Yes, anxiety can cause chest pain, more common than many believe—around 48% of patients with generalized anxiety disorder have experienced chest pain at least once (The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine).

Persistent chest discomfort is one of the most common reasons to seek medical care, so it’s not strange to find people at emergency medical care units to rule out heart attacks and other diseases. 

A paper in the National Library of Medicine (NLM) reveals that around 59% of patients experiencing sudden chest pain had some kind of anxiety disorder, ranging from mild symptoms to acute anxiety.

Moreover, from 30% to 40% of patients with low-risk chest pain had an anxiety problem, according to The American Journal of Cardiology (AJC).

This indicates that chest pain is a relatively common symptom of anxiety, underscoring the need for vigilance and appropriate response.

Why Does Anxiety Cause Chest Pain?

Anxiety can cause various physical symptoms affecting our daily lives, including shortness of breath, anxiety-related nausea,, and chest pain.

When you experience anxiety, your body goes into a fight or flight response, which is the body’s natural reaction to perceived threats or stressors.

During this response, various physiological changes occur, including the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.

This leads to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which can lead to increased heart rate, changes in breathing patterns, and chest pain.

Likewise, the hyperventilation we experience during anxiety or panic attacks contributes to this problem, as the intercostal muscles of the chest wall start to contract.

It’s important to note that experiencing chest tension and pain is not exclusive to anxiety.

A study by the Journal of Education and Health Promotion revealed that 28.5% of people who suffer from panic disorders have also experienced chest pain, which showcases how different mental health conditions can influence our physical well-being.

Symptoms of Anxiety-Related Chest Pain

If you experience unusual pains in the chest, these are some common descriptions of anxiety chest pain to watch out for:

  • Sharp or stabbing pain: Anxiety-related chest pain is often described as sharp or stabbing, rather than a dull or crushing pain commonly associated with cardiac issues.
  • Tightness or pressure: Some individuals with anxiety may experience a sensation of tightness or pressure in the chest. This feeling can be accompanied by a sense of constriction.
  • Palpitations: Anxiety can lead to an increased heart rate (palpitations). People may feel as though their heart is racing or pounding, contributing to the perception of chest discomfort.
  • Shortness of breath: Anxiety-related chest pain can be associated with difficulty breathing or a feeling of breathlessness.
  • Pain triggered by stress or anxiety: One key characteristic of anxiety-related chest pain is that it tends to be triggered or exacerbated by stress, anxiety, or panic attacks. The pain may lessen or resolve when the underlying anxiety is addressed.

How Long Does Anxiety Chest Pain Last?

The duration of anxiety-related chest pain can vary widely from one person to another because the pain can come and go based on different factors. 

The Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute (WHVI) says that chest pain due to anxiety typically disappears, on average, within 10 minutes of starting. However, in some cases, the pain can persist for up to one hour.

The intensity of the anxiety attack, the effectiveness of coping mechanisms, and different body responses to stress are some of the factors that contribute to how long the chest pain lasts.

Differences Between Heart Attack Chest Pain & Anxiety-Induced Chest Pain

The main problem with anxiety-related chest pain is that many people confuse it with cardiovascular chest pain, potentially leading to more severe outcomes.

The NJ Cardiovascular Institute has compiled the distinctions between heart-related chest pain and anxiety chest pain, and we’ve organized them into a quick table for you to easily grasp the differences:

CharacteristicAnxiety-Related Chest PainHeart-Related Chest Pain
Nature of PainSharp, stabbing, or aching sensationCrushing, squeezing, or pressure-like
DurationOften brief and may come and goPersistent, may last for several minutes
TriggersOften triggered by stress or anxietyMay be triggered by physical exertion, stress, or other factors
Relief MeasuresMay subside with relaxation techniquesMay not be relieved by relaxation; may require medical intervention
Age Group AffectedCommon in various age groups, including younger individualsMore common in older age groups, but can affect people of any age
Risk FactorsHistory of anxiety or panic disordersRisk factorssuch as hypertension, diabetes, smoking, and family history of heart disease
Response to MedicationOften responds well to anti-anxietymedicationsMay require specific heartmedications, such as nitroglycerin
Pattern of OccurrenceEpisodes tend to coincide with anxiety or panic attacksCan occur during physical activity or at rest; may have a sudden onset
Location of PainOften diffuse and may move around the chestTypically centered behind the breastbone, may radiate to arms, jaw, or back

3 Tips to Deal with Chest Pain Anxiety

Dealing with chest pain caused by anxiety is never straightforward, but fortunately for you, there are some tips and things to try to relieve these symptoms.

1. Get an App for Anxiety

Getting an anxiety app like Rootd can help you manage anxiety and its symptoms right from your pocket. Our mobile app, available for both iPhone and Android, includes various features and tools to support individuals in dealing with anxiety.

This includes guided relaxation techniques, deep breathing exercises, and different lessons to combat the most challenging symptoms of anxiety, such as chest pain.

Changing your relationship with anxiety and reducing chest pain is easier with your own anxiety and panic relief assistant, so it’s time to get started.

2. Identify Triggers and Manage Stress

Identify and address triggers that contribute to your anxiety.

Whether it’s work-related stress, relationship issues, or other life challenges, finding healthy ways to cope with stress can reduce the likelihood of anxiety-related chest pain.

3. Regular Exercise

Whenever possible, try to engage in regular physical activity. Exercise is known to have positive effects on both mental and physical health. It can help reduce overall anxiety levels and promote a sense of well-being.

Consult with a healthcare professional before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have any underlying healthconditions.

Conclusion: Dealing with Anxiety-Related Chest Pain

Chest pain is one of the most bothersome symptoms of anxiety.

Feeling as if your life is on the brink, even though it’s foremost on your mind, can cause significant discomfort and create a cycle where anxiety takes over both your mental and physical well-being.

It’s time to take control and learn how to manage chest pain from anxiety by applying the tips mentioned before.