AFib (AF), Atrial fibrillation, Healthcare, Heart Diseases, Heart Health

Palpitations: Is It A Panic Attack Or Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)?

Panic attack and atrial fibrillation

Have you ever experienced a panic attack? If your answer is yes, then you’ve already felt how your heart rate increases during one. However, the irregular heartbeat and other similar symptoms may confuse AFib with Anxiety. So, is this afib or anxiety? How to differentiate between AFib and panic attacks?

Typically, panic attacks are associated with a cumulus of symptoms familiar to those who have suffered from them. Between the familiar symptoms, you can mention irregular heartbeat, accompanied by sweaty palms, muscle tension, and chest pain that causes some respiratory difficulties. However, these symptoms can also be present in the case of Atrial Fibrillation – also known by its acronym AFib.

From these similarities comes the importance to distinguish between the two to avoid further medical complications.

Here we will explain everything you need to know to separate AFib and panic attacks.

AFib or Anxiety? The Relation Between Anxiety and Heart Rate

Indications of the relationship between heart disease and emotional disorders date back many years, where there are references to heart discomfort related to emotional discomfort.

Irregular heartbeat is the main reason why commonly passes unnoticed in comparison with the irregular heart rate during a panic attack.

Since some anxiety symptoms also include sweating, chest pain, dizziness, and fatigue, AFib can pass as anxiety.

However, the presence of AFib can indicate a deeper cardiovascular problem that needs to be found and resolve.

These are the main aspects you need to have present to differentiate AFib and panic attacks, or AFib, and general anxiety.

What is Atrial Fibrillation and Why Does It Happen?

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is fast, irregular, and disorderly atrial activation that causes a variable ventricular response.

At the physical level, it manifests with an elevated heart rate of 120-160 beats per minute (bpm), sometimes reaching 200 bpm.

The etiology of AFib is not completely clear but the most accepted theory is an alteration in cardiac circuits. However, there are also cardiac and non-cardiac causes that may be responsible for atrial fibrillation.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation:

  • Palpitations;
  • Dizziness;
  • Sweating;
  • Difficulty breathing;
  • Exercise intolerance;
  • Weakness or fatigue.

What are Panic Attacks?

Panic attacks are episodes experienced by people with panic disorders.

This is a type of anxiety disorder is characterized by episodes of intense fear without stimuli or signals that justify it.

Panic attacks are highly disabling situations and that are accompanied by physical symptoms.

Besides, their occurrence cannot be predicted, can appear at any time, and this, in turn, and intensifies fear in those who suffer from it.

The origin of panic attacks is unknown by now, several hypotheses have been handled that try to explain their appearance.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, among them are the alterations in the centers that control alertness at the brain level and alterations in the performance of neurotransmitters like GABA.

Symptoms of a panic attack:

  • Palpitations;
  • Sweating;
  • Tremors;
  • Chest pain;
  • Difficulty breathing;
  • Nausea;
  • Feeling dizzy or weak;
  • Fear of losing control;
  • Fear of dying;
  • Chills.

How To Tell The Difference Between AFib and Panic Attacks?

Is there any way to determine if your symptoms are from AFib or anxiety?

Yes, they are.

Even though some specialist recommends going to the doctor to perform a series of specialized studies to disregard AFib or anxiety, you can tell between the two with these tips:

1.     Palpitations

The heart rate during a panic attack is different compared with the irregular heartbeat as a consequence of the AFib.

Atrial fibrillation palpitations are erratic, irregular, with periods of an accelerated heart rate that then returns to normal.

Meantime, anxiety and heart rate are constant throughout a panic attack crisis, while being described as “if the heart will jump out of your chest.”

2.     Emotions

Panic attacks have a very important emotional component.

When a panic attack happens, there is a sense of imminent death, accompanied by a feeling of losing control of their minds.

It can also bring the fear of losing their sanity; making panic attacks a very frightening and intense experience.

On the other hand, AFib does not usually trigger such an intense emotional cascade.

In contrast, fear or distress is resulting from the sensation of erratic and accelerated heartbeats, but there is no loss of emotional control as in panic attacks.

3.     Triggers

Atrial fibrillation has certain common triggers, such as exercise, caffeine, or alcohol consumption.

Emotional factors such as stress are also linked to an increased occurrence of episodes of atrial fibrillation. 

Panic attacks, however, are not related to any apparent stimulus.

This paralyzing fear comes suddenly, usually occurring at night, and is almost impossible to prevent. 

However, when there are high levels of stress or prolonged anxiety states, panic attacks are more likely to occur. 

Is There a Way To Decrease AFib anPanic Attacks?

Panic attack and atrial fibrillation

AFib and panic attacks are related to high levels of anxiety and stress; therefore, it ideal to reduce the incidence of these factors.

It has been reported also that people with atrial fibrillation are more vulnerable to developing anxiety due to their condition.

Even though AFib is benign in most cases, it has a great psychological impact on the lives of its sufferers.

How To Reduce Anxiety?

In the case of panic disorders, behavioral therapy and medication is important, as well as relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation.

Additionally, anxiety due to AFib can be controlled by practicing mindfulness, with just focusing on breathing over a certain period.

Stress, another critical factor for AFib and panic attacks can be controlled with recreational activities such as yoga or tai chi.

According to this study, both disciplines are excellent to improve breath control, and your overall mental, and physical condition.

How To Live With Atrial Fibrillation and Anxiety?

Panic attack and atrial fibrillation

Symptoms of panic disorder are common to other medical conditions, which makes it difficult to diagnose correctly.

Anxiety occurs in nearly half of AFib patients after diagnosis.

Also, patients with the panic disorder appear to be more susceptible to suffer from cardiovascular disease. The pathological mechanisms that condition this two-way relationship remain unknown.

However, it is possible to develop a full life thanks to some lifestyle changes and incorporating techniques for mind control and breathing.

In some cases, atrial fibrillation and panic attacks may require medication to improve the intensity of symptoms.

However, in general, they are manageable conditions that, with the right information at the right time, will facilitate the diagnosis and quality of life of those with it.

In addition, try to get regular heart health check-ups. It will increase the chances to diagnose heart problems. It also, will help you and your doctor monitor changes in your health and come up with an effective treatment plan. However, it doesn’t mean that you need to visit your doctor constantly. Instead, you can perform your everyday check-ups with solutions like portable electrocardiogram devices and your smartphone anywhere and anytime.

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