In this blog post, we will talk about what causes a sinking feeling in the chest and what should you do to manage it.
What does it mean to have a sinking feeling in the chest?
To have a sinking feeling in the chest can mean anything from just feeling bad about a situation to having an intense feeling of anxiety, also known as the feeling of impending doom. In some cases, having a sinking feeling in the chest can also mean that you are having a physical problem like a Heart attack, or other issues like arrhythmia or irregularity of the heart rhythm.
Heart-Related Sinking Feeling in Chest
A heart related sinking feeling in the chest, or a fleeting feeling like one’s heart is fluttering is known as a heart palpitation, and usually it is not something one needs to worry about. Heart palpitations, or heart related sinking feelings in the chest can be caused by anxiety, dehydration, a hard workout or if you’ve consumed nicotine, alcohol, caffeine or even some cold and cough medications.
What does a heavy sinking feeling in the chest and throat mean?
A sudden sinking feeling in the chest could be caused by stress, uneasiness, an unpleasant emotion, anxiety, a traumatic event or apprehension. A periodic sinking feeling in the chest could also be a symptom of Atrial fibrillation.
You may be sensing periodic or irregular heart palpitations for a variety of reasons and it is advisable to speak with a doctor as soon as possible as such irregular heartbeat could be of great concern.
When experiencing a sinking feeling in your upper chest, you may also experience being unable to breathe, a heavy chest and having hands and feet that are numb.
This could happen at irregular intervals during the day for between 5 and 10 minutes or even more.
This feeling of sinking feeling in the chest is not regular and can happen at any time during the day with no particular pattern.
If this feeling is accompanied by irregular heartbeat and significant heart palpitations then you may be having a medical issue and should contact your doctor as soon as possible.
The sinking feeling in the middle of the chest can also occur with dizziness and may make you faint.
A deep sinking feeling in the chest could also be caused by a panic attack.
In some cases, after you see a doctor because of the frequent sinking feeling in your chest, the doctor will carry out chest x rays and ECG test to see what’s wrong.
Depending on your age a constant sinking feeling in the chest could be a very serious problem as it could be potential heart problems or simply indigestion or a lot of acidity in that region.
You should seek urgent medical help and get checked out by a physician.
Because having a sinking feeling in the chest is a very common symptom of Atrial fibrillation, we will now discuss Atrial fibrillation in more detail.
What is Atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.
As you know your heart never stops beating and will continuously beat till the day you die.
Each day your heart will beat over one hundred thousand times and will beat over 2 billion times in the average lifetime.
When you have atrial fibrillation your heart will not beat regularly and you will find that you may have or experience a sinking feeling in the center of your chest every now and then.
You will also notice you will have an irregular heartbeat or heart rhythm coming from the chamber of your heart.
Atrial fibrillation will usually gradually weaken the heart and reduce its ability to do its job of pumping blood through the body in an efficient manner.
When you have atrial fibrillation the heart will not beat efficiently and this leads to the issues that you may be experiencing.
In some cases, your atria may shake or beat too quickly or too rapidly which will reduce the amount of blood flowing to other parts of the heart.
When you have atrial fibrillation, you may also develop a blood clot.
Blood clots are very dangerous and can cause death if not addressed properly.
People are also very worried as blood clots can also travel to the brain and create an issue that is even further complicated.
If a blood clot travels to the brain then it could develop a stroke which could lead to death.
When you have atrial fibrillation it can increase the risk of a stroke by more than 500%.
What are the symptoms of Atrial fibrillation?
Some of the main symptoms of atrial fibrillation will usually be easily detected by you throughout your day.
One of the most common symptoms will be the sinking feeling inside of your chest which may be due to your heart rate beating at a much faster pace and your atria quivering much faster and in an irregular pattern.
When this happens you will usually feel as if your heart is skipping a beat or beating too fast.
You may feel like something is hitting against your chest and have this sinking feeling in your chest and shortness of breath.
Some of the most common symptoms of atrial fibrillation include:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
Atrial fibrillation may not happen to you constantly.
In fact, it may only happen to you at random intervals.
This means it can happen briefly and not return for several months or even years.
The symptoms of atrial fibrillation which you may face for a few minutes may, therefore, return at random at some point in the future but will not be constant throughout the day.
This is known as paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.
Regardless of if you feel you have atrial fibrillation that will only last for a short period of time you should always seek medical advice from a doctor if you have symptoms of atrial fibrillation.
The symptoms of atrial fibrillation can also resemble the symptoms of other health conditions such as having a stroke, a heart attack or sick sinus syndrome.
Stroke is another health problem which its symptoms greatly resemble those of atrial fibrillation.
This is why it is very important for the doctor to see you and perform a medical assessment if you are experiencing symptoms which are similar to atrial fibrillation.
You may have a stroke or another health condition. You should avoid Self-diagnosing yourself.
A stroke occurs when the blood flow to the brain is disturbed.
This could be due to a blood clot developing and hence depriving the brain of oxygen which it needs to function.
There are two types of stroke:
This happens due to a burst in a blood vessel in the brain. When this happens blood forms around the burst vessel.
This happens when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood into or around the brain forcing the brain to be starved of oxygen which it desperately needs.
The symptoms of a stroke and atrial fibrillation are very alike.
When experiencing a stroke you may experience symptoms such as:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- A heavy sinking feeling in the chest
Some of the symptoms of a stroke may help you differentiate it from atrial fibrillation, this includes symptoms such as
- a loss of vision
- a severe headache
- facial drooping
- difficulty speaking
The symptoms of a heart attack and atrial fibrillation can also be considered to be very alike and if you feel you are experiencing any of these symptoms then you should seek urgent medical attention.
When does a heart attack happen?
A heart attack happens when the blood circulation inside the heart is abruptly cut off and causes tissue damage.
A heart attack is usually caused by a blockage in one or more of the coronary arteries.
A blockage can occur when a substance called plaque builds up in the arteries.
When experiencing a heart attack you may experience symptoms such as
- shortness of breath
- chest pain.
- Other pain around your upper bodies such as pain in the arms, neck and jaw
- The tightness of your chest
- A sinking feeling in the chest next to the heart
The other symptoms of a heart attack which you can use to differentiate it from atrial fibrillation include:
Heart attacks can lead to death.
If you think you are experiencing a heart attack then you should seek immediate medical treatment.
Sick sinus syndrome
“Sick sinus syndrome (SSS) refers to a group of disorders that occur when the sinus node in your heart stops working correctly.
The sinus node is the part of the heart that regulates heart rhythm.
When the sinus node isn’t functioning properly, the heart can’t beat efficiently. SSS most often affects older adults.
The symptoms that resemble those of atrial fibrillation include an abnormal heartbeat and a slow pulse.
Other similar symptoms include fainting, dizziness, or lightheadedness. Unlike people with atrial fibrillation, however, those with SSS may experience memory loss and disrupted sleep.
Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
SSS must be treated to avoid complications.”
What types of sinking feeling in the chest are there?
In order to help you, so that you know what to expect when you feel a random sinking feeling in the chest, we have created the list below that differentiates the causes of this feeling:
- A strange sinking feeling in the chest due to acid reflux
- A quick sinking feeling in chest when trying to sleep
- A sinking feeling in the chest at night when sleeping
- A sinking feeling in the chest because of depression
- A sinking feeling in chest and stomach when lying down
- A sinking feeling in chest and dizziness after eating
- A continuous sinking feeling in chest after a breakup
- An empty sinking feeling in the chest near the heart
- A sinking feeling in the chest that makes you lightheaded
- A sinking feeling in the chest during pregnancy
- A sinking feeling in chest after drinking.
What are the causes of an irregular heartbeat?
The common causes of irregular heartbeats are:
- Strong emotional responses, such as stress, anxiety, or panic attacks;
- Too much physical effort;
- Stimulants, including caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, amphetamines and fever and cough medicines containing pseudoephedrine;
- Hormonal changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy or menopause;
- Too much or too little thyroid hormone.
Occasionally, chest flutter may be a sign of a serious problem, such as an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) or an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia).
Arrhythmias could cause a very fast heart rate (tachycardia), an unusually slow heart rate (bradycardia) or an irregular heartbeat.
You may be at risk of developing an irregular heartbeat if:
- You are very stressed;
- You have an anxiety disorder or have regular panic attacks;
- You are pregnant;
- Take medications that contain stimulants, such as some asthma medications;
- You have an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism);
- You have other heart problems, such as arrhythmia, heart failure, previous heart attack or previous heart surgery.
If you are wondering whether is irregular heartbeat serious or is just the cause of anxiety, our advice is to consult your doctor as soon as possible.
He will run the necessary tests and will make a proper diagnostic.
What does a fluttering heart mean?
A heart fluttering feeling means that you feel that your heartbeat is irregular, and going very fast.
The chest flutter is called fibrillation. If it starts with a very high frequency, lipothymia (fainting) or even syncope may occur – the patient loses consciousness because there is no cardiac output for cerebral circulation.
It is associated with a feeling of excessive fatigue or lack of strength.
An extremely alarming symptom of a fluttering chest is syncope.
It involves the absence of pulse and respiration.
For a few seconds, the person is not conscious, nor does he breathe, nor does he have a pulse.
It generally occurs in ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation, when there is no cardiac output at all for cerebral circulation.
What does a heart flutter feel like?
The sensation of chest flutter or Fibrillation is an electrical disease in which impulses occur with a very high frequency, somewhere in an anatomically established area, in the left atrium.
The frequency of fibrillation waves is 400-600 per minute.
The pulse that the patient feels in fibrillation, 150-160, is the rate at which they pass through the filter of the atrioventricular node.
Why does my heart flutter?
Fibrillation can occur less often on a normal morphological heart (a healthy heart) under stress: lost nights, excessive alcohol consumption, excessive consumption of stimulants.
It most often occurs on a pathological basis, either in people with myocardial ischemia, thyroid disease, diabetes, hypertension, or with age.
What does a heart palpitation feel like?
A heart palpitation may feel like a weird feeling in the chest or like having an air bubble in the chest.
Heart palpitations can be felt as:
- The heart beating too fast;
- “Jumping” (pause) in the heartbeat;
Other warning signs include:
- Dizziness and fainting;
- Chest pain or pressure;
- Difficulty breathing.
Sometimes, a more effective method than the verbal description of the palpitations is to ask the patient to reproduce the rhythm of the palpitations by percussion of the table with a pen.
The patient is asked about a weakness, dyspnea, dizziness, syncope, symptoms suggestive of coronary artery disease or another severe condition.
Feeling tired and chronically weak suggests anaemia or heart failure.
In patients with coronary artery disease, palpitations may be accompanied by ischemic chest pain secondary to decreased diastolic coronary blood flow during tachycardia or bradycardia.
The patient is asked about caffeine, alcohol, and other substances (eg cocaine, methamphetamine, or other illegal stimulants; dietary supplements, recommended dietary supplements).
How to stop sinking feeling in the chest
If you either waking up with sinking feeling in the chest or have an occasional sinking feeling in the chest and it worries you, it is best to contact your doctor.
Only a health professional can make a proper diagnosis and establish what causes the sinking feeling in your chest.
Before contacting a doctor, try to practice some breathing and relaxation exercises.
Very often the sinking fluttering feeling in the chest area is caused by anxiety, stress, something that worries us and over which we feel we have no control.
Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.
Weird Dropping Feeling in Chest
A weird dropping feeling in the chest can be a sign of anxiety or physical illness that is making your blood pressure and heart rate increase, or in some cases this type of weird feeling can also just mean that you are too stressed out about the current situation in your life.
A weird dropping feeling in the chest can also follow a difficult circumstance or some major life event that has left you shocked, and it is important to notice two main things when you have a weird dropping feeling in your chest:
- Has something significant, and mostly negative just happened to you?
- Do you have any other symptoms apart from the weird dropping feeling?
If the answer to the first question is yes, then you probably don’t need to worry about a weird dropping feeling in your chest because your body is likely just responding to the significant event in your life, and you should be fine once you are in a better situation.
If you have any other symptoms apart from the weird dropping feeling in your chest, it could mean that you have some physical problem that may be causing your heart to get stressed, which is causing the weird dropping feeling, and that means you need to see a doctor.
However, some symptoms associated with a weird dropping feeling in the chest can also be associated with panic attacks and anxiety, either of which are also conditions which also need professional treatment and must not be taken lightly.
Anxiety Sinking Feeling in Chest
If you are suffering from anxiety, sinking feeling in the chest may exacerbate it because you might get scared about possibly being sick, but you should know that many people who suffer from anxiety get a sinking feeling in their chest when there is a rise in anxiety related emotions, and this is something that goes away when anxiety does.
People who have anxiety disorders may often complain of a sinking feeling in the chest because it has to do with the way their heart is beating, and it is common knowledge that when people are suffering from anxiety they tend to have irregular heart rhythms, causing odd feelings in the chest fairly common.
Anxiety can also cause a sinking feeling in the chest because it can make everything seem hopeless and the person may feel like they will not be able to accomplish anything or complete what they are working on, which may also worsen anxiety and cause other symptoms like palpitations in addition to the sinking feeling in the chest.
A sinking feeling in the chest can mean things other than anxiety as well, however, and depending upon the age of the person and their other symptoms or conditions, a sinking feeling in the chest can also mean they have a physical ailment of some sort or perhaps another mental health condition like depression or psychosis.
Sinking Feeling in Chest When Sad
Studies show that a sinking feeling in the chest when you are sad may happen because the part of our brain that regulates emotions can also sometimes trigger biological feelings in the chest or stomach because they can affect those areas as well.
To prove the relation between study was also done in 2009 study at the University of Arizona and the University of Maryland, which showed that activity in a brain region that regulates emotional reactions, which is called the anterior cingulate cortex, may also explain how an emotional insult can trigger a biological feeling or a sinking feeling in the chest or stomach.
A sinking feeling in the chest when you are sad may even feel like someone is having a cardiac event or feeling too anxious, but sometimes this feeling only occurs because someone has to face a circumstance they have avoided for some time.
Someone with depression or someone who is feeling sad may also have a sinking feeling in their chest because they have limited resources to deal with the environment, and as a result, when they sense that there is something wrong or that they may soon have to deal with a particularly hard situation.
Some people may also experience a sinking feeling in the chest when they get extremely sad, and that is because our brain and nervous system works with neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine which are related to emotions, and hormones that are related to blood flow, and together these chemicals may cause heart flutters when they are thrown out of balance because of sadness.
Quick Sinking Feeling in Chest
A quick sinking feeling in the chest can be a sign of anxiety or sudden blood pressure drop, and in some cases it can also be because your blood sugar is low or something as simple as getting up too quickly, which may also cause a headrush in addition to the quick sinking feeling in the chest.
However, if you are older than 18 and/or if you have habits like smoking or alcohol consumption or other substances, you are at risk for heart problems and a quick sinking feeling in the chest for someone with dangerous habits or higher age can often mean heart issues, and in this case you need to get checked out immediately.
Here are some other symptoms of heart problems according to the news-medical website that you should look out for if you have a quick sinking feeling in the chest:
- “Chest pain – The chest may feel heavy and painful as if it is being compressed. The pain may last for more than a few minutes or it may come and go.
- The pain may not stay confined to the chest and may radiate to the arms (usually the left arm), the neck, jaws, back, and abdomen.
- The pain may be mild or severe and is often mistaken for heartburn or indigestion
- Feeling of weakness
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Shortness of breath, coughing and/or wheezing
- Nausea and vomiting
- An intense feeling of anxiety that is often described as a sinking sensation and sense of impending doom.”
Sinking Feeling in Chest Depression
A sinking feeling in the chest may happen in depression because the neurotransmitter commonly behind depression is also related to biological functions like heart rate, and imbalance in serotonin can cause mild physical symptoms like sinking feelings in additon to depression.
However, in some cases, a sinking feeling in the chest may be associated with depression because it may signify the symptom of hopelessness that the person feels, and the sinking feeling they get may be more to do with the fact that they feel horrible on the inside, and less to do with actual physical problems.
There have also been many studies regarding a sinking feeling in the chest or stomach and depression, and they have found that there are some links between the brain regions that process emotions and biological functioning.
When someone is undergoing a very stressful experience, like depression, they may get a sinking feeling in their chest or stomach because the anterior cingulate cortex may respond to the experience by increasing the activity of the vagus nerve, which is directly connected to the heart and starts in the brain stem, and which also reaches the abdomen (thereby the moniker of “Gut-Wrenching”).
Due to the activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the vagus nerve is stimulated, and this can cause pain, nausea, and weird sensations in the heart, which may lead to a sinking feeling in the chest and stomach in depression.
Sinking Feeling in Chest When Lying Down
Many people experience a sinking feeling in the chest when lying down, and if you sleep on your side, it is quite normal to have this feeling, because sometimes your heart rate fluctuates a bit when you are in a supine position.
Sometimes you may get a sinking feeling in the chest when you are lying down and just about to fall asleep, and you may also feel like you are falling at the same time, which may jerk you awake, this is known as a Hypnagogic jerk, and this is another completely normal phenomenon that happens in about 60-80% of the people.
A Hypnagogic Jerk happens when you are about to fall asleep and your heart rate drops more than it should, which causes the brain to jerk you back to wakefulness by making it seem like you are falling, but this is just an instinctive measure and unless it happens all the time, it is nothing to worry about.
You should see a professional about a sinking feeling in the chest when lying down if it gets to a point where you are also experiencing shortness of breath, lightheadedness, dizziness, or feeling any pain or experiencing hypnic jerks so often that you are not able to fall asleep well.
Sinking Feeling in Chest and Shortness of Breath
If you have a sinking feeling in the chest and shortness of breath, you may either be having a panic attack or a heart attack, and you should get medical attention if you have no history of panic attacks or anxiety because not doing so can be risky.
Other symptoms you should worry about if you have a sinking feeling in the chest and shortness of breath are:
- Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
- Rapid or irregular heartbeats
- Lack of energy
- Chest discomfort
- Chest discomfort
- Weakness or fatigue
- Fullness, indigestion, or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn)
- Sweating, nausea, vomiting, or dizziness
- Extreme weakness or anxiety
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, in addition to a sinking feeling in the chest and shortness of breath, you need to get immediate medical attention.
If someone around you is experiencing a sinking feeling in the chest and shortness of breath and you are concerned that they may be having a panic attack, here are the symptoms you need to look for:
- Symptoms concerning chest and abdomen
- difficulty breathing
- fear of dying
- General symptoms
- hot flashes or cold chills
- numbness or tingling sensations
- Symptoms of tension
- muscle tension, or aches and pains
- restlessness and inability to relax
- feeling keyed up, or on edge, or of mental tension
- feeling of choking
- chest pain or discomfort
- nausea or abdominal distress (e.g. churning in the stomach)
- Symptoms concerning brain and mind
- feeling dizzy, unsteady, faint, or light-headed
- feelings that objects are unreal (derealisation), or that one’s self is distant or ‘not really here’ (depersonalization)
- fear of losing control, going crazy, or passing out
If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, loneliness or any similar mental health issue then seeking help for it may be a good option.
Mental health issues such as depression, loneliness and anxiety can affect anyone of us.
The sinking feeling in the chest due to anxiety, due to stress, due to sadness – can make your condition worse, so it’s best to ask for help.
If you are under 18 then CAMHS, an NHS run programme may just be the answer for your mental health struggles.
You should look to see if you meet the CAMHS referral criteria and then fill in the CAMHS referral form.
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