Chest pain: panic attack or heart attack?

Int J Clin Pract. 2000 Mar;54(2):110-4.


Chest pain is a common presentation to both primary and secondary care physicians but is often non-cardiac in origin. Patients presenting with chest pain may be experiencing a panic attack. Panic disorder is a disabling psychiatric condition with serious consequences, such as impaired social functioning and increased risk of suicide. Comorbidity of panic disorder with other psychiatric conditions is common and often leads to increased severity of anxiety symptoms and a poorer prognosis. The cost of misdiagnosing non-cardiac chest pain is high. It is important for physicians to be able to recognise panic attacks and to distinguish them from cardiac disease, thus avoiding unnecessary use of healthcare resources. This review discusses the prevalence and diagnosis of panic attack and panic disorder in patients presenting with chest pain to primary care physicians and cardiologists. Treatment options for panic disorder are considered, particularly the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are emerging as the first-line choice for the treatment of panic disorder.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use
  • Benzodiazepines / therapeutic use
  • Chest Pain / diagnosis*
  • Coronary Disease / diagnosis*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Panic Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Panic Disorder / drug therapy
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use


  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Benzodiazepines