Do I Need to Go to a Hospital for My Panic Attack?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on July 20, 2023
3 min read

The sudden symptoms of a panic attack -- shortness of breath, a pounding heart, chest pain, and an intense feeling of fear -- may feel so alarming that you’re sure you need medical help right away.

But do you? It depends.

A panic attack isn’t dangerous. But the symptoms are a lot like those of a heart attack or other health problems that do need emergency treatment.

How do you know if you should go to the ER? Ask yourself a few questions first.

If you’ve never had a panic attack and you’re having chest pain, go to the hospital. A doctor should check to make sure you’re not having a serious medical problem, like a heart attack, a blood clot in your lungs, or a collapsed lung. Risk factors for a heart attack include high blood pressure, being overweight, having a close family member who has had a heart attack, and smoking.

If so, you probably had a series of tests, such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) and bloodwork. The results are a sure way to find out if your symptoms came from a heart problem or a panic attack.

If doctors didn’t find a health issue then and you have the same symptoms now, it’s likely that you’re having another panic attack. But if you’re not sure, you should go to the hospital.

Most panic attacks pass within 30 minutes, but you can take a few steps to calm them on your own. If you’re short of breath, you can try breathing exercises. Sit or lie down somewhere comfortable. Take slow, deep breaths gently, in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Even if you know panic attacks can cause your symptoms, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor if there’s a chance you have heart disease.

You and your doctor should talk about the signs that mean you should go to the hospital, or how long you should wait before you get help.

If you’re afraid of having a heart attack, you may want to talk to a cardiologist about how to lower your chances.

Maybe you have a pounding heart this time, but you had trouble breathing in the past. Maybe you have chest pain now that’s more intense and doesn’t let up. If your symptoms are totally different from those you’ve had before, go to the ER.

If you go the emergency room, you may have an EKG, blood tests, and a chest X-ray to make sure you’re not having a heart attack or other serious problem. The doctor may also give you medicine to help you relax.

Talk to your doctor or a therapist if you have panic attacks often. That could be a sign that you have panic disorder. If you do, your doctor can help you find the right treatment.