It can be scary experiencing chest pain or tightness, especially when the cause is not obvious. Many different conditions can cause chest pain including COVID-19 or anxiety.
Chest pain is a well-documented symptom of COVID-19, the respiratory disease that has spread to almost every country in the world since it was first discovered in 2019.
Anxiety can lead to changes in your body that cause the muscles around your chest to constrict. People who experience panic attacks often develop chest pain and other symptoms that can be similar to those of a heart attack.
Read on as we examine how you can determine if your chest pain is caused by anxiety, COVID-19, or another condition. We also compare the symptoms and typical treatments of each.
According to a 2017 criterion-standard study involving 965 randomly sampled patients across 15 U.S. primary care clinics, anxiety disorders affected about
Additionally, early research published in 1999 concluded that
Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive worrying about common situations and life events.
When you feel anxious, your body activates its “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system. This causes changes in your body that lead to symptoms like:
- muscle tightness
- rapid heartbeat
Increased tension in the muscles around your chest can cause chest pain and shortness of breath.
Some people with anxiety develop panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden and intense episodes of anxiety that can onset without warning. They can cause symptoms that mimic a heart attack, such as:
- chest pain
- rapid heart rate
- shortness of breath
The virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to enter your heart, lungs, and other tissues through an enzyme called
Once the virus is in your heart and lungs, it can cause your body to release molecules that promote inflammation called cytokines. These molecules
Chest pain is most common in people with severe COVID-19 infection. It’s about
Emergency COVID-19 symptoms
If you experience chest pain or shortness of breath that could be caused by COVID-19, call 911 and go to the nearest emergency room. The
CDCalso lists the following as emergency symptoms:
- newly developed confusion
- inability to stay awake
- pale gray or blue lips, skin, or nails
People with dark skin may not be able to notice changes in skin or nail color as easily as people with light skin.
Even though both COVID-19 and anxiety can cause chest pain, they’re typically accompanied by different symptoms. Here’s a look at how symptoms of the two conditions typically compare.
|Other typical symptoms||mental distress, feelings of dread, rapid heart rate, hyperventilation||flu-like symptoms, loss of taste and smell|
|Duration||usually 5 to 20 minutes||continuous|
|Type of pain||sharp pain or feeling of chest constriction||feelings of chest tightness and pressure|
|Symptoms resolve with relaxation techniques||possibly||no|
Here’s a look at how the other most typical symptoms of anxiety and COVID-19 compare. Symptoms are highly individual, and it’s possible to experience symptoms that are not on this list for either condition.
|Loss of taste or smell||✓|
|Tingling or numbness||✓|
|Strong feelings of dread||✓|
|Feeling detached from reality||✓|
Chest tightness or pain can be a sign of a serious health condition. It’s a good idea to see a doctor whenever you experience chest pain with an unknown cause. It’s especially important to seek medical help if your pain onsets suddenly or does not respond to anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen.
If you experience the following symptoms, or anything else concerning, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room:
- shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- pain that spreads to your left arm, back, shoulder, or jaw
- rapid heartbeat
Treatment for chest pain depends on the underlying cause. Here’s how it’s typically treated when caused by COVID-19 or anxiety.
If you have chest pain or trouble breathing due to COVID-19, you should seek emergency medical attention. COVID-19 does not have a cure, but medical professionals can help manage your symptoms.
People having trouble breathing may be given oxygen or put on a ventilator to assist their breathing. A variety of medications may also be used to manage COVID-19.
- Antiviral drugs. Antiviral drugs such as
remdesivirhelp your body fight off viral infections.
- Monoclonal antibodies.
Monoclonal antibodiesare proteins that are designed to target the virus that causes COVID-19 and prevent it from entering your cells. The combinations bamlanivimab/etesevimab or casirivimab/imdevimab may be used.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs. Drugs such as the corticosteroid dexamethasone may be given to reduce inflammation caused by COVID-19. Current research suggests dexamethasone has the greatest benefit for people requiring mechanical ventilation.
- Immunomodulators. Drugs such as baricitinib/remdeivir or tocilizumab may be added to your treatment plan. Immunomodulators are a class of drugs that modify the activity of your immune system.
- breathe in through your nose slowly and as deeply as possible
- exhale through your mouth slowly and gently
- close your eyes and focus your attention on your breathing
- you may find it helpful to count to five each time you inhale or exhale
COVID-19 and anxiety can both lead to chest pain or tightness. Generally, COVID-19 also causes flu-like symptoms, and chest pain tends to be present continuously. Chest pain and shortness of breath are most common in people with severe illness.
Chest pain caused by anxiety is more likely to onset rapidly. If it’s caused by a panic attack, it will probably go away in less than an hour.
It’s a good idea to seek medical attention whenever you experience chest pain with an unknown cause. Chest pain that onsets suddenly can also be a sign of a serious condition, such as a heart attack.