Anxiety and panic attacks can produce frightening symptoms, which can sometimes be debilitating. Low-level anxiety can lead to poor sleep quality, changes in appetite, unusual sweating, and shakiness. High-level anxiety or panic attacks can lead to systemic metabolic changes in your body which may cause crushing chest pain that can radiate down your left arm, mimicking the symptoms of a cardiovascular event.
Certain health conditions can produce the same symptoms as those associated with anxiety and panic disorder. If you develop symptoms that appear to stem from anxiety, make an appointment with a medical professional to rule out other organic causes. The sooner they are recognized and addressed, the sooner an appropriate treatment protocol can be implemented and followed.
If you have an overactive thyroid gland, or hyperthyroidism, you may experience shaking, an abnormally fast heart rate, excessive weight loss, diarrhea, and shortness of breath. In addition, hyperthyroidism can cause profuse sweating, fine hand tremors, an acute startle response, and excessive urination. All of these symptoms can be associated with anxiety or panic disorder, so it is important that you visit your physician, who will recommend a thyroid panel blood test to evaluate your thyroid hormone levels.
If it is determined that you have an overactive thyroid, your doctor may prescribe medication to suppress excess thyroid hormone and recommend that you take medications such as beta blockers to slow down your heart rate. Once you start taking your medication, your symptoms will begin to improve.
If your hematocrit or hemoglobin blood levels are low, anemia is present. Similarly, if your iron stores are below normal, you may have iron-deficiency anemia.
When your hemoglobin is low, less oxygen is transported to your vital organs, and this can diminish cellular function and make you anemic. Anemia can cause weakness, dizziness, shaking, palpitations, and shortness of breath, symptoms that mimic those of anxiety. Severe or long-standing anemia can also cause pallor of your skin and gums. Other possible symptoms include excessive bruising, nosebleeds or bleeding from your gums, and sometimes, tiny purple dots on your skin, known as petechiae.
Treatment for anemia usually involves taking iron or ferrous sulphate supplements and eating foods rich in iron, such as red meat and green leafy vegetables. Once your hemoglobin, hematocrit, and iron levels have been restored, your symptoms will resolve.
A cardiac condition known as tachycardia can produce symptoms similar to those associated with panic attacks. Tachycardia refers to an abnormally fast heart rate that also may accompany chest pain, difficulty breathing, numbness and tingling sensations, dizziness, and lightheadedness.
There are a few different types of tachycardia, however. With sinus tachycardia, the rhythm of your heart is normal but it is simply beating too fast. Ventricular tachycardia, which is more serious, causes both the rhythm and the rate to beat out of control. It can also heighten your risk for developing a blood clot, heart attack, or stroke.
To determine the cause of your tachycardia, your health care provider may recommend blood tests, and electrocardiogram. In addition, you may need to have an echocardiogram, which is a test that captures real-time images of your heart by using sound waves instead of ionizing radiation.
Treating tachycardia usually involves taking beta blockers or anti-arrhythmic drugs depending upon the etiology of your symptoms. If your tachycardia is associated with an abnormal heart rhythm, you may need to take an anticoagulant medication such as warfarin or aspirin to prevent the development of a blood clot.
If your doctor determines that your fast heart rate is related to anxiety, anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed. Beta blockers are also used “off label” in the treatment of anxiety because they help slow down the heart rate and relieve shakiness, and may help quell adrenaline rushes.
While anxiety can be disruptive to your life, it is not necessarily dangerous. It is important, however, to visit your doctor if you experience unusual symptoms such as a fast heart rate, shortness of breath, severe dizziness, or numbness and tingling sensations. Your health care provider will determine whether your symptoms are associated with anxiety or panic attacks, or if they are related to a cardiovascular, endocrine, or blood disorder.
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