Understanding a Panic Attack

A Panic Attack is the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and includes at least four of these Panic Attack symptoms below:

• Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
• Sweating
• Trembling or shaking
• Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
• Feelings of choking
• Chest pain or discomfort
• Nausea or abdominal distress
• Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed or faint
• Chills or heat sensations
• Numbness or tingling sensations
• Feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself
• Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
• Fear of dying

Although Anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as a racing heart or knots in your stomach, what makes a Panic Attack different is the intensity and duration of the symptoms. A Panic Attack can typically reach its peak level of intensity in 10 minutes or less and then begin to subside. Due to the intensity of the symptoms of the Panic Attack and their tendency to mimic those of heart disease, thyroid problems, breathing disorders, and other illnesses, people with a Panic Disorder often make many visits to the emergency room or their doctor, convinced they have a life-threatening issue.

A Panic Attack can occur unexpectedly during a calm state or in an anxious state. Although a Panic Attack is a defining characteristic of a panic disorder, it is not uncommon for individuals to experience a Panic Attack in the context of their psychological disorder. For example, a person with social anxiety might have a Panic Attack before giving a talk at a conference and someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder might have a Panic Attack when prevented from engaging in a ritual or compulsion.

A Panic Attack is extremely unpleasant and can be very frightening. As a result, people who experience repeated Panic Attacks often become very worried about having another attack and may make changes in their lifestyle so as to avoid having a Panic Attack.

Some people are afraid or embarrassed to tell anyone that they have Panic Attacks, including their doctor or loved ones as they fear of being seen as a hypochondriac. Instead, they suffer in silence, distancing themselves from friends, family, and others who can help them. People suffering from Panic Attacks aren’t always aware they have a treatable disorder. It is important to speak to a friend, or a family member or to consult your psychologist to seek the appropriate treatment.