Why do I have this sinking feeling in my chest?(A guide)

Sinking feeling in chest

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 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%.

sinking feeling in chest

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:

  • Confusion
  • shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • lightheadedness
  • dizziness
  • fainting

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.

sinking feeling in chest

Stroke

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:

Hemorrhagic stroke

This happens due to a burst in a blood vessel in the brain. When this happens blood forms around the burst vessel.

Ischemic stroke

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:

  • Confusion
  • shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • lightheadedness
  • dizziness
  • Fainting
  • 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
  • Seizures
  • facial drooping
  • difficulty speaking

Heart attack

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 

  • Fatigue
  • 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:

  • sweating
  • coughing
  • nausea
  • vomiting

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

How to stop sinking feeling in 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.

Conclusions

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.

Why do I have this sinking feeling in my chest?(A guide)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.