When you feel like your beginning to breathe very rapidly and complain that your heart is jumping around in your chest, you may be experiencing panic attack. Such rapid pulse and shortness of breath of a panic attack can feel like a heart attack, and may signal a brewing heart trouble, a study of more than 3,000 older women reveals. Episodes of panic attack are frightening and may occur at random or after a person is exposed to various events that may trigger the condition.
Based on the study, women who reported at least one full-blown panic attack during a six-month period were three times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke over the next five years than women who didn’t report a panic attack. After taking into account other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, inactivity and depression, researchers have also found out that emotional and mental health issues chracterized by fear, hostility, and anxiety which have been linked to previous research on heart problems, said study co-author Dr. Jordan Smoller of Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital.
“Postmenopausal women who are experiencing panic attacks may be a subgroup with elevated risk,” Smoller said. She added that monitoring the health condition of postmenopausal women is critical to the reduction of the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Monday’s Archives of General Psychiatry published the study which wasn’t designed to explain the link but speculated that a panic attack may trigger heart rhythm problems or that stress hormones released during an attack may harm the heart.
Susie Rissler, 51, of Terre Haute, Indiana, wasn’t a bit surprised by the study. She’s been a panic attack sufferer since childhood who had already experienced three mini-strokes. “You feel like the whole world is caving in,” Rissler said of her panic attacks, which can include symptoms like racing heartbeat and chest pains. “I’ve had shaking, sweating, curling up in a ball totally afraid to even look around. Panic attacks can really destroy a person in a lot of different ways,” she said.
According to Smoller, some of the reported panic symptoms such as racing heart, chest pain or shortness of breath, experienced as a panic attack, may have been heart problems in disguise and may have been caused by an undiagnosed heart problem. “One study doesn’t settle a question,” he cautioned. Smoller said that the number of events seen in this sample was still relatively small.
From 1997-2000, the study enrolled 3,243 women and followed them for five years. Forty-one in the analysis had a heart attack or death from a heart problem. An additional 40 had strokes. According to Dr. Joann Manson of Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital who is not part of the team, though the weakness of the study may be its reliance on the women’s memories, rather than doctors’ diagnoses, it’s more likely that the findings point to a real connection between panic and heart problems.
“It does tie together very well with what we know about the biology and physiology of the stress hormones,” Manson said. “I think it does suggest that this is something to discuss with your doctor, ” Manson said.