Is My Shortness Of Breath Anxiety Or Coronavirus?

I watched movies (*cough* Contagion.) I listened to podcasts (shout out to Rich Roll!) From what food would freeze well to when I’d next see my rellies, I prepped for every possible outcome. I even Googled “how to build a bunker” (better safe than sorry, hey?)

The downside to being a next-level nervous Nelly (aside from, you know… it preventing me from living my day-to-day life?) The debilitating physical symptoms. Nausea, chest pains and shortness of breath. Which, btw, can also be early signs of COVID-19. Yikes.

We spoke to Dr Aifric Boylan, CEO of online medical service Qoctor and practicing GP to get us clued up on the respective sources of these symptoms. And, most importantly, teach us how to tell the difference between them.

What do physical anxiety symptoms related to chest pain and breathing feel like?

Chest pain and shortness of breath are common features of anxiety. These symptoms can feel quite scary and may be mistaken for a heart attack, asthma or other serious condition, often making a person feel even more anxious! However, there are a few tell-tale features that can help a doctor diagnose the cause. For example, chest pain and breathlessness due to heart or lung problems tend to be worse on exertion, such as walking briskly or climbing stairs. With anxiety, the pain and shortness of breath tend to come on more randomly, at rest, or when the person is feeling stressed- they are not usually related to exertion.

The type of chest pain people get with anxiety can vary from person to person- it can feel like an ache, a tightness, a pressure or a sharp stabbing pain. It can last for a few seconds, or for longer periods of time.

What can you do if you’re experiencing them?

If you think you have symptoms of anxiety, it is important to speak to a doctor, as they can give you a check up and make sure your heart and lungs are ok. They may advise a blood pressure check, physical examination and sometimes other investigations such as blood tests, ECG (electric trace of the heart) or a chest X ray. Anaemia or an overactive thyroid can have similarities with anxiety. If the doctor feels anxiety is causing your symptoms, they may recommend lifestyle changes to reduce stress levels, as well as seeing a psychologist, or starting a medication.

What do COVID-19 symptoms related to chest pain and breathing feel like?

People with Covid-19 may experience shortness of breath or chest pain, but in that case they’ll usually have some other viral symptoms, such as fever, dry cough, fatigue, muscle aches, runny or congested nose, sore throat, diarrhoea. Chest pain or breathlessness due to COVID-19 would tend to get worse on exertion.

What can you do if you’re experiencing them? 

Anyone experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath should attend a doctor or emergency department immediately. There are many potential causes, and it is important a full assessment is done to get to the bottom of it. If severe chest pain occurs, especially if accompanied by feeling breathless, dizzy or weak, you should call an ambulance by dialling “triple zero” 000.

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