Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on June 28, 2021

Heart Problems

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These can spike your heart and breathing rates the same way anxiety does. Panic attacks and heart attacks in particular have similar -- and sometimes identical -- symptoms. Both can cause dizziness, chest pain, and trouble breathing. They can also trigger sweating, nausea, and a feeling of fear. It can be hard to tell them apart without testing. Call 911 or go to the ER right away if you have any of these symptoms, especially if you don’t have a history of panic attacks.

Asthma

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Both it and anxiety can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, and lightheadedness. And both can be triggered by stressors like relationship or financial problems. Many people with asthma also have panic attacks. You may think it’s anxiety if you start to have these symptoms as an adult, but you could be dealing with adult-onset asthma. Red flags include wheezing, coughing, and symptoms that change day by day.

Diabetes

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With uncontrolled diabetes, sugar rushes and dips can lead to trembling, sweating, and a fast heart rate. It can cause headaches and nausea, too. These symptoms are sometimes confused with anxiety. Talk to your doctor if you’re often very hungry, thirsty, tired, or peeing a lot. Or if you’re losing weight, have blurry vision, dry skin, or sores that heal slowly. You may need your blood sugar tested.

Hyperthyroidism

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Hormonal imbalances can look like anxiety. For example, an overactive thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone. This can speed up your metabolism and lead to nervousness, restlessness, and a fast heartbeat. It can also cause sleep trouble and irritability, all common with anxiety. A “thyroid storm” can look very similar to a panic attack. Keep an eye out for unexplained weight loss and increased sensitivity to heat, both signs of hyperthyroidism.

Sleep Apnea

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When you can’t breathe properly at night, you might wake up feeling breathless or with a racing heart. Sleep apnea can lead to other anxiety-like symptoms including headaches, mood changes, memory trouble, and nightmares. It can even trigger panic attacks. Talk to your doctor about getting tested for sleep apnea, especially if you also snore loudly.

Adrenal Dysfunction

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When our adrenal glands make too much or too little of any of our hormones, it can cause a number of symptoms. These include anxiousness, depression, and fatigue. Disorientation, fast heart rate, and trouble concentrating may happen, too. Talk to your doctor about adrenal dysfunction if you also have weakness, pains or spasms in your muscles, purplish streak marks on your abdomen, or if you’re bruising easily. Tell them about any unexplained weight changes, too.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

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Many people with anxiety get stomachaches. But IBS can also cause belly pain and cramps. These conditions often go hand in hand, and each can make the other worse. So it’s sometimes hard to know which is the root cause. If you have bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea, IBS may be the source. Getting the right treatment will help you feel better physically and mentally.

Electrolyte Imbalance

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If you have really high or low levels of electrolytes like sodium or potassium, it can cause anxiety or panic-like symptoms. These include shortness of breath, confusion, and rapid heartbeat. You might also be irritable, lightheaded, fatigued, or have headaches or nausea. Electrolyte imbalance can have many possible causes, including drinking too much or too little water, not eating healthy foods, chemotherapy, or certain medications, as well as heart, kidney, or liver disease.

Neurological Conditions

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Many disorders of the brain can look like anxiety because they sometimes cause symptoms like headaches, memory problems, and tremors. They can also trigger anxiousness, fast heartbeat, and shortness of breath. Talk to your doctor if you have a family history of neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or multiple sclerosis.

Lung Diseases

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They often cause shortness of breath, a common symptom of anxiety, along with nausea and chest pain or pressure. If you also cough or wheeze a lot and have trouble taking a deep breath, you could have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The risk is higher if you’re a smoker or have had a respiratory infection.

Fibromyalgia

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Because the symptoms are vague, this lifetime pain disorder is hard to diagnose. It often causes sleep trouble, fatigue, memory and concentration problems, headaches, and emotional and mental distress. Doctors may assume you have anxiety, which can also involve general aches and pains. If that doesn’t sound right, see a rheumatologist. Some people also have jaw pain, digestive problems, and tingling or numbness in their hands and feet.

Endometriosis

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This condition happens when your uterine lining grows outside the uterus. Many people go undiagnosed for years because the pain can be hard to pin down. It’s often chalked up to IBS or “bad periods.” It can also be misdiagnosed as anxiety. And if you actually do have anxiety, it may stem from your symptoms. Talk to an obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN), if you have irregular, heavy, or very painful periods or ongoing pelvic pain. Be sure to tell them if you have pain during sex, stomachaches, or pain when you poop or pee.

Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS)

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Inflammatory disorders often look like or cause anxiety or panic disorders. AS, a form of arthritis, inflames the joints in your pelvis and spine. Back pain is common. Sometimes it spreads to your ribs, making it painful or difficult to breathe. It can also cause fatigue and digestive symptoms. If you have chronic pain or stiffness in your lower back, hips, neck, jaw, knees, heels, or buttocks, particularly in the morning, see a rheumatologist.

Crohn’s Disease

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Gastrointestinal symptoms like stomach pains and changes in bathroom habits can trigger anxiety. If you often get stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, or blood or mucus in your bowel movements, ask your doctor to check for Crohn’s. Symptoms can be similar to IBS, but unlike IBS, a doctor can see signs of Crohn’s with an imaging test. The two conditions are treated very differently, so it’s important to get the right diagnosis.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

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This is a complex hormonal condition that can cause symptoms sometimes linked to anxiety. These include weight gain, headaches, sleep problems, mood changes, and depression. It can also lead to extra hair growth, acne, and irregular periods. All of the symptoms, even ovarian cysts, can stem from other conditions. PCOS is common, especially in people who are overweight.

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