Like most other symptoms on this list, it's seldom cut-and-dried when you feel causeless anxiety -- it's sometimes a sign your heart is in trouble. It can also mean you have an anxiety disorder (see How Fear Works) or there's something you're unconsciously very worried about. Or, the fear is entirely warranted because your heart muscle is in the process of dying, and you just don't realize it.
Awareness can help you make the call. Anxiety is a common symptom of lots of ailments, but ask yourself these questions:
- Does your anxiety seem entirely irrational?
- Is this the first time you're experiencing this type of anxiety?
- Does it feel like a sense of impending doom -- like something bad is about to happen, but you don't know what that is?
- Are you also feeling dizzy, nauseous, sweaty or clammy?
- Do you also have one or more of the other symptoms on this list?
If so, you should call 911. It could be a heart attack, and it's best not to wait it out to find out for sure. After all, even if it's an anxiety or panic attack and not a heart attack, you'll probably still need to get medical help, so you might as well get to the hospital.
While it's difficult to know if anxiety, a racing heart or an aching shoulder means your heart is dying, the worse news is that some heart attacks have no symptoms at all. There's something called a silent heart attack, and you'd never know you're having one until it's too late. One study in Massachusetts found that about 25 percent of heart attacks were only discovered later during routine exams, because they gave off no warning signs [source: Health Central]. The best way to prevent permanent damage, then, is to get regular heart screening if you know you're at risk (see How Heart Disease Works). That way, even if you do have a silent heart attack, you'll get help for it the next time you see your cardiologist, not when you keel over.