Anxiety vs Atrial Fibrillation: How To Tell The Difference

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 20 May 2022

Table of Contents:

  1. Anxiety vs Atrial Fibrillation 
  2. Symptoms
  3. How To Tell The Difference
  4. Diagnosis
  5. Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Is Your Pounding Heart Anxiety or AFib?

It may sound like your heart is pounding or missing beats. This can happen for a variety of reasons. You may have recently received some good news and are overjoyed. It's possible that you're nervous about starting a new job. Maybe you had too much coffee this morning and are now experiencing caffeine jitters.

An irregular heartbeat may be a sign of something more serious: atrial fibrillation, or AF. AF is a heart rhythm disorder, also known as arrhythmia, in which electrical impulses in the heart do not conduct properly. It's as if the heart's two upper chambers (atria) are miscommunicating and beating too hard.


  • A missed heartbeat preceded by a thump
  • Palpitations or a fluttering feeling in the heart
  • Sweating 
  • Pain in the chest
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Weakness and exhaustion
  • Shortness of breath

Those symptoms are just like what you would experience if you had anxiety. They can be frightening in any case, and you should contact your doctor right away. This condition can strike at any age.


How to Tell the Difference

How do you know if you're getting an anxiety attack or AF? It's an excellent question. Stress and anxiety have been shown in studies to exacerbate the symptoms of AF, but further research is required to determine if people who suffer from anxiety or depression are more likely to develop it. Because AF affects your quality of life, research shows that people with the condition are more likely to develop depression or anxiety.



A few measures will be used by your doctor to diagnose AF and rule out anxiety.

Electrocardiogram: An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) records your heart's electrical activity. It’s a painless examination that takes only a few minutes. You lie down and a nurse or technician puts electrodes on your skin that track electricity. If you have an AF episode at this time, the test will record it. 

Heart monitor: A heart monitor can detect irregular heartbeats that occur on a less frequent basis. Your doctor can advise you to wear one for a few days in order to detect AF episodes. It's essentially a compact ECG.

Event monitor: If your AF episodes are rare, your doctor can advise you to wear an event monitor. An irregular heartbeat will activate the monitor to record the incident. Some trigger themselves, while others must be activated.

Stress test: A stress test can aid in the diagnosis if exercise triggers the condition. Your doctor may make you run on a treadmill while wearing a heart monitor for this.

Blood test: A blood test can assist in ruling out any possible causes of your symptoms, such as a thyroid disorder.

Chest X-Ray: A chest X-ray will assist your doctor in determining the state of your heart and lungs. An X-ray can also be used to rule out other conditions.

Since certain AF patients have no symptoms, the condition sometimes goes undiagnosed. It is, however, treatable and, in some cases, curable. It can cause heart failure and stroke if left untreated.


Questions to Ask Your Doctor

If you suspect you might have anxiety or AF, ask your doctor these questions.

If you suspect anxiety, do the following:

  • Is it possible that my anxiety is linked to my physical health?
  • May I consult a mental health professional?
  • Is it necessary for me to seek therapy or medication?
  • What should I do at home to reduce my anxiety?
  • Is there anything I should stop eating or drinking?

If you suspect AF:

  • Is it possible that I have paroxysmal, chronic, or irreversible AF?
  • What’s the cause?
  • Is there something I can stop eating or drinking?
  • What kinds of activities or exercise are safe?
  • What exercises or practises should I avoid?
  • Is it necessary for me to have an operation or surgery?
  • Is it necessary for me to take medication?
  • What will be the next steps?


Referenced on 20/4/2021

  1. AFib Matters: “Living With Atrial Fibrillation.”
  2. Cleveland Clinic: “What is Atrial Fibrillation?" “Atrial Fibrillation,” “Heart Surgery for Atrial Fibrillation (MAZE)," “Atrial Fibrillation (Afib): Management and Treatment."
  3. Cunningham, J. Pursuing Improved Quality of Life In the Atrial Fibrillation Population: Evidence-Based Practice, University of South Carolina, 2012.
  4. CardioSmart: “Atrial Fibrillation Overview," “Living With AFib: Experts and Patients Share 10 Tips," “I Have Atrial Fibrillation: How Active Can I Be?"

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