Chest pain from anxiety: causes and treatment options

chest pain from anxiety
Medically reviewed by Dr. Asim Cheema

Overview

Chest pain can feel scary, there may be several causes, including anxiety as one of the most common causes in young adults or teens. Remember, anxiety affects both your mind and body. Simple tricks like taking slow breaths, focusing on the present moment, or gently tensing and relaxing your muscles can help calm your nerves and soothe your chest. Talking to someone about what’s bothering you can also make a big difference. How stress affects your body and having strategies to cope with it can help you feel better in the long run. Remember, you’re not alone, and there are ways to find relief from anxiety-induced chest pain.

What causes chest pain from anxiety?

“ One of the key messages is that chest pain may encompass more than simply pain in chest”

Arielle Abovich, MD, MPH

Chest pain from anxiety can stem from various factors, all interconnected with the body’s stress response. Here’s a breakdown of potential causes:

Cardiac causes

Cardiac pain due to anxiety results from direct effects on the heart, including autonomic stimulation and hyperventilation-triggered coronary artery spasms. These spasms restrict blood flow, leading to oxygen deprivation and chest pain. Individuals with a history of heart disease are especially vulnerable as anxiety exacerbates their condition by increasing myocardial oxygen demand through elevated heart rate and blood pressure. Hence, managing anxiety is vital for both mental and cardiovascular health.

Increased heart rate

Anxiety can cause palpitations and can cause the heart to beat faster or irregularly. This heightened heart rate can sometimes be felt as chest pain or a pounding sensation.

Hyperventilation

During anxiety, breathing can become rapid and shallow, leading to hyperventilation. This alters the body’s oxygen and carbon dioxide balance, potentially causing chest pain or discomfort.

Non-cardiac causes:

Chest pain is a symptom commonly associated with anxiety, often leading to concerns about heart-related issues. However, many cases of chest pain in individuals with anxiety are non-cardiac in origin. These non-cardiac causes can include muscle tension, acid reflux, and heightened sensitivity to bodily sensations. Understanding these alternative sources of chest discomfort is essential for the diagnosis and adequate management of anxiety-related symptoms.

Muscle tension

Anxiety triggers the body’s “fight or flight” response, causing muscles to tense up. This tension can include muscles in the chest, leading to discomfort or pain.

Gastrointestinal issues

Burning in the chest can be a symptom of anxiety and stress. Stress and anxiety can affect digestion and lead to symptoms like acid reflux or heartburn. These gastrointestinal issues can manifest as chest pain, especially if the discomfort is felt in the upper abdomen or chest area. We have occasions where patients perceive gastrointestinal symptoms as heart attacks. 

Hypersensitivity to bodily sensations

Individuals with anxiety disorders may become hypersensitive to normal bodily sensations. This means they may interpret minor sensations, such as the fluttering of their heart or the sensation of breathing, as chest pain, stress, and tightness.

Fear of heart problems

Anxiety about having a heart attack or other severe medical conditions can intensify sensations in the chest. This fear can create a cycle where heightened anxiety leads to increased chest pain, further fueling worries about heart health.

Panic Attacks

The sensation of chest-burning anxiety made it difficult to focus on anything else during the panic attack. Anxiety can occasionally turn into a panic episode, which is typified by abrupt, intense emotions of terror or impending disaster. One of the most typical symptoms of panic attacks is tightness or pain in the chest. The good news is anxiety can be treated online.

Chest pain can be life-threatening. Consult now

What does chest pain from anxiety feel like?

Individual differences rarely exist in the symptoms of chest pain due to anxiety and cardiac causes. Sometimes, a person’s symptoms aren’t even the same. Everybody reacts differently to chest pain associated with anxiety. A condition that some people develop gradually is chest discomfort. Others might feel sudden or unanticipated discomfort. 

Anxiety-related chest discomfort is characterized by:

  • Persistent chest aching
  • Sharp, shooting pain
  • An unusual muscle cramp in your chest
  • Stabbing pressure in chest anxiety
  • Burning, numbness, or a dull ache
  • Chest tension

You could be concerned if you have never experienced anxiety along with chest pain. Many go to the hospital emergency room thinking they are experiencing a heart attack and receive treatment there.

Chest pain constitutes a common reason for visits to medical emergency departments and cardiology clinics. Research in 2022 states that roughly half of these cases involve noncardiac chest pain (NCCP), which refers to chest pain without discernible cardiac origin.

How to get rid of chest pain from anxiety?

You can attempt a few easy techniques if you have an anxious feeling in your chest. While these methods might not always be effective, they’re a fantastic place to start if you need assistance controlling your anxiety.

Mindfulness meditation

Engage in mindfulness meditation or guided imagery exercises to focus on the present moment and reduce stress-induced chest pain. 

Progressive muscle relaxation

Starting from your toes and working your way up to your head, gradually tense and then release each muscle group in your body. This method can assist in reducing stress and easing chest pain.

Stay active

Frequent exercise, like jogging, yoga, or walking, can help lower anxiety and stress levels, which may then aid in relieving chest pain.

Limit caffeine and alcohol

Limit the amount of stimulants you consume, such as alcohol and caffeine, as they can aggravate anxiety symptoms and aggravate chest pain.

Healthy lifestyle choices

Maintain a balanced diet, sleep well, and avoid smoking to support overall well-being and reduce anxiety-related chest pain.

Distraction techniques

Engage in activities that distract you from your anxiety, such as spending time with your loved ones and listening to music or reading books.

Practice deep breathing

Stress can cause chest pain. Deep, focused breaths can help to relax your body and mind. Locate a peaceful space and take ten slow breaths. Exhale for ten counts after holding your breath for a moment. Repeat this more times as you notice a decrease in your heart rate.

Take stock of the situation

After acknowledging and accepting your anxious sensations, try to put them into perspective.

Are you experiencing anxiety over an uncontrollable issue? Do you worry about an unlikely result? Do you fear something over which you have no control? After identifying the cause of your emotions through conversation, try to put them into context.

Chest tightness in anxiety can be frustrating. Consult now for a personalized plan to treat anxiety.

Picture a beautiful scene

Imagine a location that instantly makes you feel peaceful if you’re nervous. This can be especially useful if you’re experiencing anxiety in an unavoidable scenario, such as an intense meeting. As you picture this place, take a few deep breaths.

Use a relaxation app

Anxiety-related smartphone apps can guide you through workouts and methods for reducing stress. Additionally, you might use meditation applications to help you relax when you’re feeling nervous. You may test out a few of these free applications to see which works best for you.

How long should anxiety chest pain last?

An anxiety attack causes acute chest discomfort that gradually gets better, whereas a heart attack chest pain starts slowly and gets worse over time. Anxiety and chest pain associated with worry often go away in 10 minutes or less. Even when the pain subsides, further anxiety-related sensations may linger for up to an hour.

How can you tell the difference between chest pain and anxiety chest pain?

It might be difficult to distinguish between anxiety-induced chest pain and regular chest pain because they both have similar symptoms. But there are a few essential distinctions to take into account:

Characteristics of the pain

Chest pain related to a heart attack or other cardiac conditions is often described as crushing, squeezing, or chest pressure anxiety. It may radiate to the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. In contrast, anxiety-induced chest pain is more likely to be described as sharp, stabbing, or tightness in the chest. It may also come and go or vary in intensity.

Triggers and context

Pay attention to the circumstances of the chest pain. Stressful situations, panic attacks, or periods of heightened anxiety often trigger chest pain related to stress. On the other hand, chest pain from a heart attack or other cardiac issues may occur during physical exertion or be triggered by factors such as smoking, obesity, or a family history of heart disease.

Associated symptoms

Anxiety-induced chest pain is often with other symptoms of anxiety, such as palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating, trembling, or feelings of impending doom. In contrast, chest pain from a heart attack or other cardiac conditions may be associated with symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting.

Response to treatment

Chest pain from anxiety typically responds to relaxation techniques, deep breathing exercises, or other anxiety management strategies. If the pain improves or resolves with these measures, it’s more likely to be anxiety-related. 

SymptomGradual onset may develop over timeChest Pain due to Cardiac Disease
RadiationUsually localized to the chestMay radiate to arms, back, shoulders, neck, throat, or jaw
CauseAssociated with anxiety, stress, or panic attacksCaused by reduced blood flow to the heart (heart attack)
ExertionCan occur at rest or during periods of anxiety,Typically triggered by exertion or physical activity
OnsetGradual onset, may develop over timeSudden onset, often reaching maximum intensity quickly
DurationMay persist for a longer durationMay be prolonged or intermittent
NatureSharp, stabbing sensation over a localized areaPressure, fullness, ache, or pain
Response to PressureMay worsen with pressure over the painful areaResponse to pressure may vary
Associated SymptomsPalpitations, sweating, shortness of breathNausea, shortness of breath, sweating, weakness
Risk FactorsAssociated with anxiety disordersRisk factors include hypertension, smoking, diabetes
Response to Rest or AnxietyMay ease with relaxation or reassuranceMay not be alleviated by rest or anxiety reduction
Worried that it may be a heart attack? Consult now for an accurate diagnosis.

Consult a doctor

It is important to seek medical attention promptly if you experience chest pain, regardless of whether you suspect it’s due to anxiety or another cause. If the pain is severe, persistent, or lasts more than a few minutes, especially with additional symptoms like nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, sweating, or fainting, seek emergency medical assistance immediately. This is particularly important if it’s your first time experiencing chest pain or if you have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or other conditions that raise your risk of cardiovascular issues. Additionally, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention if your chest pain worsens over time or is accompanied by new or concerning symptoms such as palpitations, lightheadedness, or difficulty breathing. This applies equally if you have anxiety symptoms like panic attacks or difficulty managing stress alongside chest pain. 

FAQs about chest pain from anxiety

Where is anxiety chest pain located?

Chest pain associated with anxiety is frequently felt in the left or center of the chest. Anxiety chest pain typically stays in one location, as opposed to heart attack chest pain, which often begins in the chest and extends to the shoulder and arm.

Does anxiety cause chest pain every day?

Yes, anxiety can cause chest pain to occur daily, especially in individuals with generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder. Persistent muscle tension, hyperventilation, and heightened sensitivity to bodily sensations can contribute to frequent chest discomfort. 

Can anxiety wake you up with chest pain?

Chest pain upon awakening from a panic attack is another common sign of a certain kind of anxiety illness. If you twist or move your upper body while asleep, it could result in rib or muscle damage that causes chest pain when you wake up.

Why do I feel anxiety in my chest?

Your body experiences a spike in cortisol and adrenaline when you’re nervous. These hormones cause your blood pressure and heart rate to spike sharply immediately. Many suffer from perspiration, chest pain, and difficulty breathing as a result.

Can anxiety make your heart hurt?

Yes, anxiety can manifest as physical sensations such as chest tightness or discomfort, which may feel like heart pain. 

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

  • Eifert, Georg H., Michael J. Zvolensky, and Carl W. Lejuez. “Heart-focused anxiety and chest pain: A conceptual and clinical review.” Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 7.4 (2000): 403.
  • Shelby, Rebecca A., et al. “Pain catastrophizing in patients with non-cardiac chest pain: relationships with pain, anxiety, and disability.” Psychosomatic medicine 71.8 (2009): 861.
  • Eken, Cenker, et al. “Anxiety and depressive disorders in patients presenting with chest pain to the emergency department: a comparison between cardiac and non-cardiac origin.” The Journal of emergency medicine 39.2 (2010): 144-150.
  • de Heer, Eric W., et al. “Chest pain, depression and anxiety in coronary heart disease: Consequence or cause? A prospective clinical study in primary care.” Journal of Psychosomatic Research 129 (2020): 109891.

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