Racing Heart, Shortness of Breath: Tachycardia (SVT) or Panic Attack?

racing heart

Your heart is racing. You feel dizzy and short of breath. These might be the symptoms of a panic attack. Or these could signs of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), which describes rapid heart rhythms. But how can you tell which one you’re experiencing? What are the similarities and differences between these conditions?

Racing Heart, Dizziness? How are SVT and Panic Attacks Similar?

As we discussed above, SVT and panic attacks share some of the same symptoms: racing heart (increased heart rate), light headedness, breathlessness, and even chest pain. They can also occur at any time, unexpectedly.

What are the Differences between SVT and Panic Attacks?

Despite the similarities, there are distinct differences between these conditions. Let’s start with what causes each one, then we’ll look at the symptoms you should watch for. 

  • Causes: Panic attacks result from an emotional condition. What we’ve learned about panic attacks is that they generally result from anxiety disorders that develop from a complex set of risk factors, including brain chemistry, genetics, personality, and life events.

SVT is caused by an abnormality in the timing or pattern of the heartbeat. The heart can wind up beating too fast, too slow, or erratically. Underlying medical conditions like hypertension, diabetes, or an overproduction of thyroid hormones may be what’s causing this irregular heartbeat. Because the heart is offbeat, blood may not pump sufficiently, which leads to a lack of blood supply to other areas of the body.

  • Symptoms: With a panic attack, your heart rate speeds up and slowly returns to a normal pace. With supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), your heart will start racing abruptly, and then equally abruptly stop racing or begin to slow down. 

Additionally, with a panic attack, your heart beats faster but still follows a regular rhythm. SVT typically causes erratic beats. Your heart can beat super fast 4 times, then slow down to two beats, then start racing again. 

Although SVT is harmless in mild cases, it can be life-threatening in more severe cases. Treatment will typically involve ablation or cardioversion. Panic attacks can typically treated with anti-anxiety medications or holistically through exercise and cognitive behavioral therapies.For more on patient safety topics, read HHER’s blog on managing anxiety, or like us on Facebook to keep up with the latest healthcare trends.