People around the world suffer from several mental disorders, and panic attack is one of them. It is a sudden episode of fear or terror. A panic attack triggers several physical reactions that can be arduous for human health.
Being one of the most frightening experiences, the patient needs to know about the feeling, its causes, and how it can be controlled. Read the guide below to learn all the symptoms, causes, and treatment of panic attacks.
Panic Attack Definition
A panic attack is defined as a mental disorder that involves the sudden and abrupt feeling of fear and despair that strikes without warning. These feelings are unpredictable and can arise in any situation. Whether you are sleeping or awake, you can experience episodes of this mental disorder.
The feeling of getting a panic attack resembles that of a heart attack and death where you cannot breathe, and your heart pounds. A panic attack can be a one-time thing as well as a course of repeated episodes.
However, panic attacks can be triggered by the repetition of specific situations such as crossing the road or public speaking. If these events have caused panic attacks before, you will more likely experience the attack again.
Panic-inducing situations contribute a lot to the attacks. Cases in which you feel endangered or unable to escape increases the chance of a panic attack. Anything that triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response has a higher risk of causing the attack.
Panic attacks can result due to other mental health disorders. Conditions such as panic disorder, depression, anxiety, and social phobias can cause panic attacks. No matter the type or level of disorder you are at, it can be treated.
Panic Attack vs. Panic Disorder
People often interchangeably use panic attacks as panic disorder. However, these two are different things—many people in their lifetime experience one or multiple episodes of a panic attack. The reason behind this can be a temporary stressful situation or an event.
While if the attacks are recurrent, unexpected, and leave the person in constant fear of another attack, it is known as panic disorder. Panic attacks and disorders are not fatal or life-threatening but can influence your health in multiple ways as it makes a person lose self-control and consciousness.
A person is more likely to witness panic attacks and disorder if he has a family history of this condition. However, if the right treatment is given to a patient at the right time, this condition can be cured permanently.
Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack
It often gets confusing for a person to realize whether he is having a panic attack or an anxiety attack as both share some common experiences. However, panic attacks are different from anxiety attacks.
Anxiety disorders are feelings related to something that a person perceives as threatening or stressful. For this reason, anxiety attacks can be predicted. In contrast to this, a panic attack occurs out of the blue without giving a clue to the person.
Moreover, the intensity of an anxiety attack can be mild, moderate, or severe. For example, ordinary day-to-day activities can be causing anxiety at the back of your mind. For a panic attack, the symptoms can be far more severe and disruptive.
During a panic attack, a person’s fight-or-flight response gets activated on its own. This physical symptom is far more severe than the symptoms of an anxiety attack.
Panic Attack Symptoms
Unlike other disorders, the signs and symptoms of a panic attack are abrupt and cannot be predicted. These symptoms reach their peak in a very short time of about 10 minutes, making a person feel terrible.
However, these feelings rarely last for an hour or two and mostly end within 20 to 30 minutes. As panic attacks are abrupt, they are very dangerous. They can happen anywhere without producing a warning for the patient.
Following is the list of symptoms that a person can experience when getting a panic attack:
- Chest Pain or discomfort
- Trembling or shaking
- Hyperventilation or shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate or palpitations
- Choking feeling
- Feeling unreal and detached from the world.
- Upset stomach
- Feeling dizzy
- Tingling or numbness
- Hot or cold flashes
- Fear of dying
- Losing self-control
Some people experience what is referred to as a limited-symptom panic attack in which the person witnesses not more than four symptoms of a severe panic attack.
Panic attacks can be extremely unpleasant and frightening. People who encounter repeated panic attacks become worried about having another one making their lives miserable and very challenging.
Panic Attack Causes and Effects
Although panic attacks and disorders are extremely common, experts are still not certain what causes them. It is because a panic attack has to do a lot with the family’s medical history and other external factors.
Panic attacks can be triggered by major life transitions, whether happy or sad. Moreover, many medical and physical conditions can cause panic attacks as well. If you are experiencing a panic attack following can be the causes:
- Health-related problems including hyperthyroidism, heart and breathing problems.
- Mental and mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.
- Excessive use of alcohol and drugs.
- Excessive use of nicotine, caffeine, and sugar.
- Certain medications that treat asthma and heart-related problems.
- Genetics and the family history of panic disorders.
- Staying in major stress for a more extended time.
- Changes in the way the parts of your brain function.
- Temperament that is prone to negative emotions.
Initially, panic attacks come abruptly without giving a warning, but when it becomes a disorder, over time, events and situations play a great deal in triggering them.
Although panic attacks can be treated, if not, they can affect your health and lifestyle in several ways. Following are the complications that can be caused by panic attacks:
- Development of different phobias, including amaxophobia, agoraphobia, etc.
- Avoidance of social situations
- Problems at work
- Problems at school
- Problems interacting with people.
- Psychiatric disorders including depression and anxiety.
- Increased risks of suicide
- Misuse of alcohol or drugs
- Financial problems
Identifying the causes and effects of a panic attack is essential to get the right treatment done.
Risk Factors of Panic Attack
Whether the symptoms are pre-existing or not, there are always some factors that increase the chances of getting that specific health problem. These are the risk factors that almost every disease, disorder, or condition depends on.
Similarly, there are risk factors that increase the chances of getting panic attacks and panic disorders. If you control these natural and human-made risks, you will be less likely to witness these frightening attacks.
Following are the significant risk factors of panic attacks presented by mental health experts:
- Age - Age is a common risk factor for panic attacks. People in their late adolescence and early adulthood tend to have more chances of experiencing panic attacks than others.
However, experts believe that panic disorders can be witnessed by a person at any age and time of life. Children, as well as an adult, can fall prey to panic attacks.
- Gender - Females tend to develop anxiety and panic disorders more than males. Because of this, they are more prone to experience panic attacks. Experts suggest conducting a screening of women age 13 and above as they are twice as at risk as men.
- Personality - Many studies show that children who generally get fearful, nervous, or anxious tend to develop panic disorders. Personality disorders contribute a lot to anxiety and panic attacks.
However, personality alone can not be a contributing factor. Experts believe that panic disorders are a result of environmental, biological, and psychological factors.
- Environment - The family environment and how individuals behave in the family play a great role in developing mental disorders. Strict parents with more expectations and seeking perfection tend to formulate anxiety disorders in children who later result in panic attacks.
- Genetics - Panic disorders are closely linked and connected to family patterns and genes. An individual whose close biological family member has a panic disorder is eight times more at risk of developing it.
- Life Events - Stressful and frightening life events and situations can be a triggering force for panic attacks as well. Any problematic life experience to which you are closely connected can contribute to panic disorder.
- Co-occurring Conditions - When people have panic disorder, they deal with other feelings, including sadness, anxiety, worry, and live with other mental health conditions. A panic attack’s co-occurring conditions include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, PTSD, and social anxiety disorder.
Struggling to deal with the risk factors can be challenging, but you are halfway there to fully cure the disorder if you succeed.
Panic Attack Treatment
As stated earlier, panic attacks and panic disorders can be treated if the condition is diagnosed right and in time. If you have any symptoms of panic disorder or attack, visit a doctor. The health expert will examine you by asking about your past health and will conduct a physical exam. Moreover, based on the results obtained from blood tests and other exams, the diagnosis will take place.
After getting diagnosed with the disorder, obtain the right treatments. Mainly, there are three ways in which panic attacks can be treated:
- Natural Remedies
Below is detailed information on the therapies and medication that can help you treat your disorder in a better way.
Among all the treatments, the most effective and professional way to deal with panic attacks and panic disorders is therapy. It can be done for a long time, but a short course will be enough to see significant results.
Following are the types of therapies that are proved to be the most effective ones:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - This therapy focuses on the patient’s thinking and behavior patterns that trigger panic attacks. It helps a person look into his fears and phobias more realistically.
Therapists try to make patients believe that the results and consequences of a perceived situation are not as dangerous. When the experience of panic or a stressful situation is not terrifying, the person can cope with it in a better way.
- Exposure Therapy for Panic Disorder - According to this therapy, the therapists help you by coping up with the situation by providing a physical sensation of panic. In a safe environment, they motivate patients to look for ways to deal with stressful situations and how to cope with them.
Your therapist might ask you to hold your breath, hyperventilate, or shake your head excessively to exercise sensations of panic. With each exposure, you will become less afraid of them. This helps the patient to gain self-control and consciousness.
Another way to treat panic attacks is through medication. This can be done to either temporarily treat the disorder or to minimize the symptoms. Medicines can be extremely helpful in severe conditions, but they should not be taken as the only treatment.
The medication should be taken in combination with therapy and a healthy lifestyle to permanently treat and cure panic attacks.
The medication to treat panic attacks may include:
- Anti-anxiety drugs
People look for natural ways to treat all their health-related problems as there are no side effects, and they are usually affordable. Following are some of the natural treatments for panic disorders:
- Exercise - Exercising not only helps you maintain weight but makes you fresh and healthy as well. It burns off all negative energies present inside your body that boost your immune system and helps you get rid of frightening thoughts.
- Meditation - In this, a person tries to control racing thoughts and focuses or relaxes, which is extremely effective in treating panic attacks.
- Relaxation - The tension in muscles can sometimes be a cause of a panic attack. Learn muscle relaxation techniques from experts or online to treat panic disorder effectively.
- Spending Time With Animals - Being around animals can be a great treatment as well. Animals can provide emotional support to people that help them to stay calm in stressful situations. You can get an emotional support animal by simply getting an ESA letter from a mental health expert and can treat your psychological disorders, including panic attacks, easily.
An emotional support animal is especially helpful in managing these symptoms and helping such people lead a healthy and normal life.
Panic Attack Prevention
Although there are treatments available, people should still try to prevent panic attacks. There are some natural factors that cause panic disorders, but they can be prevented. Include the following things in your day-to-day life to avoid all risks of getting a panic attack:
- Balanced Diet - Eating right is a key to a healthy life. Take a balanced diet and meals full of nutrition to keep yourself and your immune system healthy. Avoid junk and fast food as they can be a cause of multiple disorders, including sleep and obesity that can eventually lead to panic disorder.
Moreover, avoid consuming excessive alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and sugars. A healthy eating habit will prevent you from life-threatening diseases and disorders.
- Positive Mind - Positive and happy thoughts can help a person stay calm and together. A healthy mind will positively affect the body, and you will feel more relaxed and focused. Try not to get influenced by situations around you and always look for the positive ray in life.
- Healthy Body - Adapt a healthy lifestyle and make exercise an essential part of it. It will help you stay fresh, and you will find less likely to focus on your worries and issues that are a cause of most mental disorders.
Meditation, yoga, and other breathing exercises can also help you to get rid of your fears, preventing panic disorder.
- Management - A person should be able to manage time and tasks in order to avoid hassle and anxiousness. It helps a person stay calm in several situations, which has the ability to put the person in a panic state.
Prevention is better than cure. Take measures to avoid the risks of getting mental disorders and live a healthy life.
Commonly Asked Questions About Panic Attack
As panic attacks and disorders are frequently experienced by people, they always have confusion to clear about these conditions. Health experts are often being asked different questions regarding this disorder and how people can deal with them.
Following are some commonly asked questions about panic attacks:
1. How do you calm a panic attack?
A panic attack can be calmed in multiple ways, including the following:
- Deep Breathing: When experiencing an attack, try to breathe deeply and gradually to calm yourself down.
- Relaxing - Try to relax your muscles and mind using techniques.
2. Should you go to the ER for a panic attack?
When experiencing a panic attack, the heart may pounder, and a person may feel a heavy heart or chest pain as if having a heart attack. Although this is common, if you are having different symptoms, go to an ER.
3. What happens after a panic attack?
After experiencing a panic attack, a person may feel tired or tense muscles. In some cases, people get anxious and worried about having another attack or losing self-control.
4. How do you calm a panic attack in public?
If you experience an attack in public, the following things should be done:
- If you are prone to panic attacks, keep a “calm down kit” with you all the time to use it in an emergency.
- Get yourself to a safe place if having a panic attack, for example, on the road.
- Ask for help if you have people around you.
- Try to soothe yourself like the way you do it at home.
- Stay where you are and avoid traveling.
5. How do you calm a panic attack at night?
The panic attack you get at night or while sleeping can be calm down by doing the following things:
- Do not resist it
- Try to relax.
- If in bed, try getting up and do something.
- Give yourself time to fall asleep.
- Get herbal tea or milk to relax your muscles and help you fall asleep.
- Prepare yourself for the other day.
- Avoid consuming alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine before going to bed.
6. Can you pass out from a panic attack?
Yes, the chances are that a person can pass out from a panic attack. If your blood pressure drops, you are most likely to faint from an attack. Although, when anxiety hits, the blood pressure usually rises, minimizing the risks of fainting.
7. How to help someone having a panic attack?
If you see a person having a panic attack around you, the following actions should be taken:
- Stay calm
- Ask the person to focus on breathing.
- Hold the person to make him trust you and help him relax.
- Try to make a person not think of as if he’s having an attack and talk randomly.
- Encourage the person rather than showing sympathy and losing yourself.
Panic and other mental disorders are something that should not be hidden or looked down upon to talk about. Professionals suggest seeking help if you feel uncomfortable and notice anything unusual in your day-to-day behavior and routine.
Like every other disease, panic attacks and disorders can be treated. Just consult experts and pay regular checkups to ensure mental health and stability. If you have a healthy mind, getting a healthy body or life is impossible.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does a panic attack feel like?
Having a panic attack is an intense feeling. Usually the heart pounds, it is hard for you to breathe, and you feel as if you are losing control. A panic attack is often confused with a heart attack and people often think as if they are dying.
What triggers a panic attack?
Panic attacks can be triggered by the repetition of specific situations such as crossing the road or public speaking. If these events have caused panic attacks before, you will more likely experience the attack again.
What happens if you can’t stop a panic attack?
If you do not calm yourself to stop a panic attack, chances are that your attack will go worse. You will start worrying about more that will make you lose control and it will be hard for you to focus.
What medical conditions cause panic attacks?
Medical conditions that cause panic attack includes:
- Heart diseases
- Respiratory disorders
- Thyroid problems
- Chronic pain
- Withdrawal of drugs and alcohol
How do you recover from a panic attack?
There are six ways to recover from a panic attack:
- Change the position of your body
- Change the environment or the scenery
- Have something to eat
- Drink plenty of water
- Have some sleep
- Get some exercise
Are panic attacks a sign of mental illness?
Panic attacks are not physically dangerous but if they occur repeatedly the overwhelming fear will result in several mental or anxiety disorders such as panic disorder.
How do you diagnose a panic attack?
A panic attack is diagnosed by a medical health expert on the basis of physical examination and analyzing the symptoms. Moreover, the expert also carries out some blood tests to check for thyroid and other possible medical conditions.