Can Anxiety Cause Chest Pain?
Should you be concerned about that chest pain? This is how to tell
THE REASONS I BELIEVE ANXIETY CAUSES CHEST PAIN
The Mayo Clinic lists twelve common symptoms of anxiety in their article on anxiety disorders. Chest pain has not made it onto their list. They also do not mention anxiety as a cause of chest pain here. But I still believe there is a strong connection between anxiety and chest pain.
I don’t think the Mayo Clinic is wrong, I think we are both correct. The difference is that they have higher standards for evidence than me.
Some of the reasons I believe anxiety and chest pain are related are:
- I have anxiety, and sometimes I have unexplained chest pain. My chest pain is sharp, lasts for no more than a couple of seconds, and does not radiate outwards. This is exactly what anxious chest pain supposedly feels like according to those who have it.
- Panic attacks cause chest pain. It seems likely that episodes of high anxiety can too.
- Looking at the graph below, detailing the number of Google searches for specific phrases.
“Can anxiety cause chest pain” is searched seven times as often as the similar “Can anxiety cause back pain”.
It is searched 6 times more often than “Can anxiety cause constipation”, which is a common symptom of anxiety.
CHEST PAIN IS THE MOST CONCERNING ANXIETY SYMPTOM
Nobody starts planning their funeral when anxiety gives them a head or stomach ache. Neither do we frantically burst into the emergency room if our muscles are sore. Yet frequently when we get episodes of chest pain, we get so spooked that we seem ready to drop everything. Why is this?
We associate chest pain with heart issues
It is very understandable that we take chest pain seriously.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and we are continually taught to be wary of early warning signs. That’s why we should be wary of chest pain, because it’s true that heart disease very often causes chest pain. It’s also true that chest pain very rarely means heart disease.
If you are having chest pains, please do schedule a meeting with your general practitioner. There is no reason to assume anything is wrong, but better safe than sorry. Usually the confirmation that you are healthy can be very helpful in stopping anxious thoughts.
Note that heart disease develops slowly over time. If there is nothing wrong with your heart today, there is next to no chance there will be tomorrow.
HOW ANXIETY CAN CAUSE CHEST PAIN
In 13 Common Panic Attack Myths Debunked I mention that chest pain is caused by muscle spasms.
- Hyperventilation, a common symptom of high anxiety, can lead to chest muscle spasms and spasms in the arteries that move blood to your heart.
- Meanwhile, an episode of high anxiety can lead to spasms in the esophagus.
Hyperventilation can also lead to decreased blood flow through our blood vessels. This causes pain when muscle cells become starved for oxygen. 
This is how you end chest pain
Considering how influential hyperventilation is in causing our chest pain, relaxing our breathing will have great effects.
We breathe because our body needs oxygen to work, and the oxygen we take in ends up as CO2 that we breathe out. But we also need quite a bit of CO2 in our body for everything to work correctly.
During hyperventilation we breathe too fast and too shallow. We end up removing too much CO2.
The easiest way to fix this is to regulate our own breathing. This article by PsychCentral has a very good description of how that can be done.
ANXIOUS CHEST PAIN HAS A SPECIFIC FEEL TO IT
The heart, like any other muscle, needs a continuous supply of blood to survive. If this blood flow is ever severely reduced or stopped entirely, the heart takes damage. This is what we know as a heart attack. As we can imagine, it can be very uncomfortable and painful.
The pain felt during anxious chest pain is primarily from muscle contractions, what we call spasms. This is very different from the muscle damage and death during a heart attack.
This results in two distinct experiences and feelings of pain.
- Sharp and stabbing pain that only lasts for a few seconds
- Persistent tension or aching
- Localised, often center of chest
- Uncomfortable pressure, like your heart is being squeezed, a feeling of fullness
- Lasts for more than a few minutes, although it can come and go
- Pain or uncomfortable feelings often extend beyond the chest, to your arms, shoulders, neck, back, jaw, teeth, or stomach.
For a more detailed description of heart attacks, visit the Mayo Clinic’s website.
Although you will usually be able to tell the difference, both anxiety and heart attack symptoms can vary widely. If you are ever in doubt, listen to your gut feeling and call 911. It is better to be safe than sorry.