Panic Attacks

A panic attack is a terrible feeling of fear that suddenly overwhelms you. It can come out of the blue and for no apparent reason. It is not dangerous but it can be very frightening to the person having it and, to a lesser degrees, to those around that person. This is because you feel you have no control and once you have suffered from a panic attack, your greatest fear can then be the thought of having another panic attack, particularly in a public place. A panic attack can last for just minutes (the body cannot sustain such a response for long) but repeated attacks can continue to recur for hours.

What happens in a panic attack and what are the physical symptoms?

Such physical symptoms can include:

o Shaking or trembling all over
o Feeling that your heart is pounding or racing
o Sweating
o Chest pain or discomfort
o Shortness of breath
o Feeling that you are choking
o Nausea
o Cramping
o Dizziness or weakness
o An “out of body” feeling
o Tingling or numbness in your limbs (pins and needles)
o Hot flashes or sudden chills
o Terror that is almost paralyzing

While it is unlikely for someone to suffer from all of these symptoms at once, the presence of at least 4 symptoms would strongly indicate a panic attack. The person might also experience a fear of losing control, going crazy or of dying during such a panic attack which of course would aggravate the attack.

The fear of having another attack can become so intense that it becomes the basis for a further condition known as agoraphobia (the fear of the outdoors) – which can then cause the sufferer to avoid leaving home.

Diagnosis, treatment and management for a panic attack

If you feel that you are suffering from panic attacks then it is important to see a doctor, to get a proper diagnosis and to get advice and guidance on a treatment plan. Your doctor, a psychologist or psychiatrist will be able to evaluate you so that he can tell if you are having panic attacks or suffering from another problem. You will be pleased to read that there are simple treatments available to help control panic attacks. These can take the form of counseling or actual medications. Both can be very effective. Relaxation techniques or support groups are also very helpful forms of treatment.

Causes of panic attacks

There may be a genetic link or a biological malfunction. Women are twice as likely as men to get panic attacks.

Extreme stressful events can trigger panic attacks.

Caffeine, cold and flu medications, certain anti-malarial drugs, appetite suppressants, local anesthetics, and even exercise can cause panic attacks.

The actual thought of having a panic attack can in fact trigger such an attack.

Paper bag emergency treatment

You may well have seen the paper bag remedy used in a sitcom when someone has a panic attack. This can be an effective short term solution for such an occasion. This action balances the ratio of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood and can actually work.

Remember that 2 to 4 out of every 100 people will suffer from a panic attack during some stage of their life so you certainly would not be alone. People of all races and economic groups can suffer from panic attacks and while the condition more commonly affects those between 20 and 40 years, it can also occur in the young and the elderly.

The condition is frequently wrongly diagnosed as a thyroid problem, hypoglycemia or a heart valve problem so be aware of this when seeking medical help.