I am constantly worrying that I have a heart problem because I get out of breath easily and my chest feels tight. Although I have had numerous cardiology tests and they have all been normal and I have been told my heart is fine, I can not seem to get it out of my head that there is something wrong and experience all the anxiety symptoms that make it feel like my heart.
Please can you advise me, is this just purely an obsessive disorder and can this problem be cured?
This sounds like an anxiety disorder. Many people who experience panic attacks find that one of the most troubling symptoms is the fear of having a heart attack. Panic attacks really do feel like there is something wrong with your heart, so it makes sense that you are concerned.
Anxiety causes (among other symptoms) chest pain, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, racing heart and heart palpitations. These frightening symptoms increase the anxiety…and the symptoms get worse…and you get even more anxious…it is a vicious cycle.
Panic and anxiety cause these symptoms because the body is in fight-or-flight mode. The heart rate increases, breathing becomes rapid, muscles tighten…all in preparation to fight or flee. The tense chest muscles initially cause feelings of tightness. Muscles then start to fatigue, leading to feelings of pain in the chest.
In answer to your question, YES, the problem can be cured.
I believe that the most effective way to get rid of this kind of anxiety is an exercise called the experimental technique. I learned about this technique from David Burns, author of "When Panic Attacks."
Here's how it works. You devise an experiment to test whether your negative thoughts are true. In this case, your thoughts might look something like this:
I'm having a heart attack.
I'm going to die.
There is something wrong with my heart.
I can't breathe.
This chest pain means I have a dangerous illness.
You feel anxious because during a panic attack, these thoughts seem true and are frightening. If you know the thoughts are not true, they are no longer scary, and the anxiety goes away.
How could you do an experiment to find out if these thoughts are true?
In his book "When Panic Attacks," David Burns describes an experiment where a patient with these types of thoughts does vigorous exercise. By doing exercise during a panic attack, the patient proves that she is not having a heart attack, does not die, and can breathe. After repeating this experiment a few times, the patient is no longer afraid of symptoms of chest tightness or a racing heart, and the anxiety is gone.
Perhaps an experiment like this one would work for you. If not, there are a variety of other techniques that can help to get rid of anxiety and panic, and there is sure to be a technique that will help. Find more information on anxiety on this overcoming anxiety page.