Majority Of Heart Attack Victims Could Just Be Anxious

Majority Of Heart Attack Victims Could Just Be Anxious

by Dr Emma Gray - 5th September, 2012

Research Suggests Large Numbers of People Suspected Of Having Heart Attack Are Actually Suffering From Anxiety.
A significant majority of patients presenting to Accident and Emergency departments with a suspected heart attack are in fact experiencing a severe attack of anxiety. A number of studies have found that among those attending emergency departments with a chief complaint of chest pain (the second most common complaint amongst Accident and Emergency patients) 50-90% of cases were diagnosed with non-cardiac chest pain. One of the main causes of non-cardiac chest pain is a panic attack.
A panic attack is a distinct episode of anxiety, the onset of which is sudden, the duration of which relatively short. During a panic attack symptoms of anxiety are severe, intense and overwhelming and include a range of physical changes including heart palpitations, breathlessness, chest tightness and pain, dizziness, nausea, sweating, blurred vision and tingling in extremities. The reason for such a high number of patients misinterpreting their symptoms is thought to be due to the link between cardiovascular symptoms and the tendency for patients suffering from panic attacks to become preoccupied with physical symptoms that they think are dangerous, become alarmed by them (which leads to an increase in these symptoms as additional adrenalin is released into their systems) and believe that they need to seek emergency treatment for them.
Current practice is to discharge these patients from A & E without treatment and in most cases without a clear diagnosis of a panic attack, meaning that patients continue to experience high levels of distress whenever they notice a change in their physical state and continue to seek emergency treatment, putting a strain on what are already very limited resources. Experts are increasingly recommending that these patients are referred by A &E staff for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which has been found to be the most effective type of treatment for panic attacks, and not just left to suffer repeated attacks as it has been shown that in the majority of cases if left untreated the problem only gets worse. Research suggests that if delivered by an specialist in the field of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a course of between 10-15 sessions of CBT can lead to a complete recovery from symptoms with no risk of relapse.


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleague once described me as natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.


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