Panic Attack

Posted by Kingsway Hospitals-The Best Multispecialty hospital on January 15th, 2021


A sudden episode of intense and often overwhelming fear which triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or evident cause is a panic attack. It can be very frightening. While the panic attack, one may feel like losing control, having a heart attack or even feel like dying.

Panic attacks aren't life-threatening; however, they can significantly affect the quality of life. Mostly, people may have just one or two panic attacks in their whole lifetime, and the problem may go away. However, if one has had recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and spent long periods in constant fear of another attack, they may have a panic disorder. Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder and is more common in women.


The exact cause for a panic attack is not known. However, there may be some triggers:

· A stressful job.

· Driving.

· Social situations.

· Phobias, such as agoraphobia (fear of crowded or open spaces), claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces), and acrophobia (fear of height).

· Chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, or asthma.

· Chronic pain.

· Withdrawal from drugs or alcohol.

· Caffeine.

· Medication and supplements.

· Thyroid problems.

· Temperament that is more sensitive to stress or prone to negative emotions.


Factors which can increase the risk of developing panic attacks may include:

· Family history of panic attacks or panic disorder.

· Having an anxious personality.

· Having another mental health disorder, such as depression.

· Major life stress, such as the death or serious illness of a loved one or a divorce.

· A traumatic event, such as sexual assault or a serious accident experienced as a child or an adult.

· Smoking, drugs or alcohol.

· History of childhood physical or sexual abuse.

· Experiencing ongoing stress and worries, such as work responsibilities, conflict in your family, or financial woes.

· Living with a chronic health condition or life-threatening illness.


Panic attacks usually are sudden, without a warning. Panic attacks can have many variations; however, symptoms usually are at peak within minutes. After a panic attack subsides, one may feel fatigued and drained out. Panic attacks typically include some of the following signs or symptoms:

· Sense of impending danger.

· Fear of loss of control or death

· Palpitations; rapid, pounding heart rate.

· Sweating, trembling or shaking.

· Shortness of breath.

· Tightness in your throat/ feeling of choking.

· Dry mouth.

· Chills.

· Hot flashes.

· Nausea and abdominal cramping.

· Chest pain or discomfort.

· Headache.

· Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness.

· Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensation).

· Feeling of unreality (derealization) or feeling of detachment (depersonalization). 

A panic attack may develop an intense fear in a person that they will have another attack. And in that fear of developing another panic attack, the person may start avoiding certain situations where it might occur.


The doctor will ask about the symptoms and conduct tests to rule out other health conditions having similar symptoms, such as heart disease or thyroid problems. To come to a final diagnosis, the doctor may conduct:

· A complete physical exam.

· Blood tests to check thyroid and other possible conditions.

· Tests on the heart, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG).

· A psychological evaluation to talk about symptoms, fears or concerns, stressful situations, relationship problems, situations one may be avoiding and family history. It includes filling out a psychological self-assessment or questionnaire. 

· Doctor may also enquire about alcohol or other substance abuse. 



One should discuss with their doctor or mental health professional to find out ways to prevent or control panic attack symptoms. If one feels an anxiety or panic attack coming on, they can try the following to control it:

Close eyes and take slow deep breaths: Focus on each inhale and exhale. Feel the stomach fill with air as you inhale. Count to four and exhale. Repeat it until breathing slows down.

Recognize and accept what you’re experiencing: When one has previously experienced a panic attack, they know how frightening it can be. Therefore, remind yourself that it will pass and you’ll be fine.

Practice mindful meditation if possible: Mindfulness can help to ground your thoughts in the present. Meditation helps a lot to calm down.

Use of relaxation techniques: Try to relax your body and muscles. Relaxation techniques may include guided imagery, aromatherapy, and muscle relaxation. 


Other treatment methods may include psychotherapy, medications or some lifestyle changes.

i) Psychotherapy:

Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is an effective first-choice treatment for panic attacks. Psychotherapy can help you understand panic attacks and learn how to cope with them.

A type of talk therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy helps to learn how to change unhealthy/negative thoughts and behaviours that can trigger panic attacks.

ii) Medications:

They may include:

· antidepressants

· antianxiety drugs

· benzodiazepines

iii) Lifestyle changes:

Changes in lifestyle which can help to prevent panic attacks may include:

· Try to reduce sources of stress in life.

· Physical activity: Regular, moderate exercise.

· Practice meditation or yoga.

· Have a balanced diet.

· Join a support group for people with anxiety or panic attacks.

· Limit the consumption of alcohol, drugs, and caffeine.

Panic attacks affect many people. However, there are effective treatments. Anyone suffering panic attacks or panic disorder should receive appropriate medical treatment. Timely treatment can help to control the symptoms and prevent further complications. Sadly, in today's world, many people having panic attacks are afraid to seek treatment. Many times, they feel embarrassed to tell anyone, including their doctors or closed ones about what they are experiencing because of the fear of being judged. Instead, they suffer in silence; distance themselves from friends, family, and others who could help them. At other instances, people suffering from panic attacks are not aware that they have a real and highly treatable disorder. Let us hope that increased education and awareness will allow people to feel more empowered to discuss their problems and fears with a healthcare professional and seek appropriate medical treatment at Kingsway Hospitals.

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