Panic Attack – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Summary: It cause symptoms that involve heart/ other crucial organs but is not dangerous or life-threatening as symptoms typically dissipate in few minutes except the internal fear of next attack.

Sudden commencement of any episode full of extreme fear/ apprehension is known as Panic attack. Intense period full of fear, discomfort with some usual symptoms that appear abruptly and reaches heights in as less as 10 minutes time. As per ‘American Psychological Association’, the symptoms may last for approximately 30 minutes or even 15 seconds. It may be cyclic where it appears as small series persisting for extensive period and may last for some hours.

Apart from panic attack, sufferers may experience anticipatory anxiety (fear of attack in different similar situations). Symptoms of these two are very similar and may vary from one person to another. First-time sufferers may even get the feel of nervous breakdown/ heart attack. It is most frightening as well as upsetting experiences.

Individuals who have already suffered panic attack have reported following symptoms:

  • Feel that they are dying
  • Detach from reality
  • Feel that they are going crazy
  • Lose control
  • Heart attack/ Heart palpitations
  • Flashing vision/ Tunnel vision
  • Faintness/ dizziness/ nausea
  • Tingling/ numbness all through the body with Trembling/ shaking
  • Heavy breathing/ Shortness of breath
  • Hyperventilation
  • Overpowering urge to escape/ run
  • Chest pain
  • Hot & cold flushes
  • Burning sensation around face/ neck
  • Sweating
  • Choking/ smothering

Different people suffer because of different triggers but common causes of panic attack include:

  • Hereditary: It runs in families but you must not assume that children would certainly develop any anxiety disorder if parents suffer from one.
  • Biological: It may be triggered by hyperthyroidism/ hypoglycaemia/ Wilson’s disease/ mitral valve prolapsed/ pheochromocytoma/ inner-ear infections/ vitamin-B deficiency/ parasitic infection (tapeworm)/ post-traumatic stress/ obsessive compulsive disorder etc.
  • Stimulants: Substances like nicotine/ caffeine/ pseudoephedrine/ Ritalin/ Adderall/ cocaine/ amphetamines may trigger attack or even increase severity of prevailing symptoms.

Doctors can diagnosis it based on description of attacks or fear of attacks in future. Treatment includes

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety drugs
  • Exposure therapy
  • Cognitive behaviour therapy
  • Supportive psychotherapy.

Panic attack is a common problem and approximately 10% adults suffer from this problem every year. Females are more likely to have these attacks and many people also recover without any treatment, but they may build up panic disorder during late adolescence/ early adulthood. Sufferers must avoid situations/ places where they had previous attack.