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Panic Attack and Panic Disorder

Panic Attack and Panic Disorder

Panic Attack

A panic attack is a sudden or intense anxiety or fear. Panic attacks usually come with the following symptoms: dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, light headedness. Panic attacks are unpredictable and happen in a range of situations.

   See also: Anxiety Attack

Some people have only one or two in their lifetime, others will have a group of them which center around increasing stress in their life and for others it could be a daily event in which case it is caused a panic disorder.

People who suffer on going panic attacks will generally develop a fear of having panic attacks and go on to avoid situations in which escape would be difficult.

Some people who have social anxiety disorder often have panic attacks as part of their symptoms. These attacks are also called anxiety attacks and are usually resolved by removing the problem or trigger situation.

What does panic attack feel like

If you do have panic attacks you may have feelings of:
  • Sudden and extreme fear – Many people describe a panic attack as if a bus hit them, without warning. A panic attack can overwhelm you sudden, irrational fear.
  • Trembling – You might have uncontrollable shaking, sweating, or other physical signs with an anxiety attack.
  • Fear of dying – Some people truly believe they are dying, having a heart attack, uncontrollable fear.
  • Heart palpitations – Others feel as if their heart were beating out of their chest. This is one of the more common forms of a panic attack.

Panic Attack Symptoms

According to the DSM-IV-TR, a panic attack is characterized by four or more of the following symptoms:
  • palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • sweating
  • trembling or shaking
  • sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • feeling of choking
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal distress
  • feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • feelings of unreality (derealization) or being detached (depersonalization)
  • fear of losing control or going crazy
  • fear of dying
  • numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesias)
  • chills or hot flushes

Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack

In today’s world, many people reference panic attacks and anxiety attacks on a day to day basis. Many people believe these are common signs of stress and claim to have them regularly or say they have experienced them at some point in their life. But a panic attack and an anxiety attack are not the same thing and there are certain distinguishing characteristics between the two. In the psychiatric world there are distinct classifications between the two disorders and in order for you to understand what may be happening with you personally, it is important that you know the differences for yourself.

Common symptoms of an anxiety attack:

Anxiety attacks can be triggered when you are in a situation that has made you fearful or has affected you negatively. For instance, you could be thinking of a bad situation involving a supposed outcome at work, school or a social function and you will focus upon that end product until you are nervous, scared, shaking, with a racing heart and shortness of breath. An anxiety attack can last anywhere from a couple minutes to a few days and can happen once or regularly in your life.

Common symptoms of a panic attack:

A panic attack can strike without any warning or reason and many times people who have one think they are having a stroke, choking or having a heart attack. A panic attack may be accompanied by signs of nausea or fainting. Many times these attacks occur when you are worried about your health and this will cause you to want to run to the ER for medical care. A panic attack can occur for a few minutes or a few hours.

There are differences between these two different types of attacks. An anxiety attack will be triggered by an actual event in your life; you will be stressed about something that could happen to you in a situation. A panic attack will be triggered without any obvious cause (for example, when you are worried about your health and you will be afraid that you might die).

Anxiety attacks typically last longer than a panic attack because you are focused on a hypothetical situation and the physical symptoms of a panic attack tend to be much more severe than that of an
anxiety attack.

Types of Panic Attacks

  • Spontaneous or uncued panic attacks occur without warning or “out of the blue.” No situational or environmental triggers are associated with the attack. These types of panic attacks may even occur during sleep. (SeeNocturnal Panic Attacks)
  • Situationally bound or cued panic attacks occur upon actual or anticipated exposure to certain situations. These situations become cues or triggers for a panic episode. For example, an individual who fears enclosed spaces experiences a panic attack when entering, or thinking about entering, an elevator.
  • Situationally predisposed panic attacks don’t always occur immediately upon exposure to a feared situation or cue, but the individual is more likely to experience an attack in such situations. For example, a person who has a fear of social situations but who does not experience a panic episode in every social situation, or who experiences a delayed attack after being in a social environment for an extended period of time.

Panic Attack Causes

The causes of panic attacks are very far reaching and can be associated with many medical conditions, commonly exhibited in assorted drug withdrawals and attributed to an assortment of toxic effects on your body. Chronic stress is a main cause of panic attacks and a high stress level makes you much more prone to developing them. For some reason undergoing surgery or being under anesthesia can also lead to panic attacks.

Genetics play a huge factor in developing panic attacks. In fact you are eight more times likely to have panic attacks in your lifetime and suffer from them if a parent or other close family member also suffers or has in the past suffered from panic attacks.

Many people that seem to get them for no reason, they would like to know exactly why and according to one theory it is the body’s normal natural alarm system, which is the set of physical and mental and chemical mechanisms that allows a person to appropriately respond to a danger. Only in the case of panic attacks it tends to be triggered unneeded when there is no threat in sight, it is not, however known exactly why this happens or why some people are so much more susceptible to panic attacks than others. There is though to be an imbalance in the chemicals of the brain, or neurotransmitters, associated with panic attacks and often things like physical illness or certain medications can start the panic attack process.

Drinking large amount of alcohol or suddenly stopping the use of alcohol when you have been using for a long time can cause panic attacks as can large amounts of caffeine that tend to make you more nervous and jumpy. Smokers exhibit a much higher rate of panic attacks as the nicotine in the blood concentrates very highly and nicotine is a natural panic attack inducer. There is also increase in the frequency of panic attacks that can be seen in some women during or after pregnancy.

Serious medical conditions can sometimes have panic attacks associated with them such as heart problems like Mitral Valve Prolapse and seizure disorders like epilepsy. Asthma and respiratory problems like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) also have a higher risk of panic attacks. For reasons probably associated with the shortness of breath that panic attacks bring and a real fear of dying from those symptoms that could just be a panic attack instead of life threatening problem. 

Depression also carries with it a huge risk of panic attacks or other disorders that stem from the panic attacks such as agoraphobia and panic disorder being the most common.

  See also: Frequently Asked Questions about Depression, Answered

Many people will have intense anxiety between episodes and about 30% will use alcohol to deal with these attacks which can indeed make them worse. In the search for the causes of panic attacks there are many road blocks and closed doors but with any luck a person can at least get treatment and support, for right now there is no cure for panic attacks.

How to Deal with Panic Attacks

Below are some helpful tips on how to deal with panic attacks more effectively:
  1. If you feel as if you’re in the grips of a panic attack, don’t try to fight it. This will only increase the surge of adrenaline through your body and make you feel much worse. Your best option at this point is to simply accept the fact that you are in the midst of a panic attack, and try to remember that it will pass shortly. It may be helpful to develop a few mental visualization and relaxation techniques that will help calm you down during this difficult period.
  2. If you sense that there is an impending panic attack, slowly ease your way back into the proper breathing patterns. Take care not to breathe too quickly, as this can actually cause your condition to worsen. You may also find it helpful to breathe into a brown paper bag or even just your cupped hands. A lot of people seem to think that breathing deeply can be helpful in reducing the severity of a panic attack. While breathing does indeed have an important role to play, it is important to realize that taking too many breaths in a short period of time may actually cause you to feel more tense and anxious. Instead, you should focus on lengthening your exhalation in order to feel more relaxed. Lengthening your inhalation on the other hand will cause you to become more alert and stimulated. If you want to become more relaxed, inhale gently and exhale slowly, repeating the process as often as needed.
  3. Make some lifestyle changes. If you smoke, it would be best to cut down or quit entirely. It would also be a good idea to cut down on your alcohol consumption. You may also start up a regular exercise program after close consultation with your doctor. This will help you feel more asked as well as benefit your health in many other ways. You could also make several improvements to your diet, with eating regular meals and avoiding processed foods being some of the more effective things you can do. This article will give you more insight → Diet for Panic Attacks: What Foods are Good and What Foods to Avoid)
  4. Don’t keep your feelings bottled in. You may benefit from talking things over with a close friend or family member. In more extreme cases, you may need to consult with a professional.
  5. Set aside certain periods during the day to calm yourself. This will give you a much-needed breathing period that will hopefully enable you to better deal with stress. (See here: Relaxation Techniques and other Natural Remedies for Anxiety and Stress)
How to Stop Panic Attacks

How to Stop Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are triggered reactions, which may be attributed to different causes. There are causes that cannot be avoided or removed such as genetics, or progressively degenerating diseases like Alzheimer so the panic attacks due to these triggers can only be managed through medication and therapy.

If a panic attack has already set on, the trick with of breathing into a paper bag really does work. During hyperventilation, the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide intake are askew, and breathing in a paper bag brings back some of the carbon dioxide into the system. (But don't overdo it).

Ask your doctor about getting a prescription for mild sedatives, if the panic attacks happen often, but also ask if there is any danger for dependence on the drug, or what the withdrawal symptoms will be.

The best way to prevent panic attacks from happening is to remove the triggers or contributing factors that you can from your environment:
  1. Avoid stimulating substances like caffeine, nicotine, and narcotics. Not only do these substances trigger an attack, so will removing them from your system after a prolonged use.
  2. If the panic attack is due to a certain type of prescription medication, ask your doctor for an alternative.
  3. Since some panic attacks are due to nutritional deficiencies and parasitic infections, make sure that you have a good diet, and that your surroundings are always clean. While on the subject of nutrition, avoid food that will cause your sugar to spike. Learn more here → Diet for Panic Attacks: What Foods are Good and What Foods to Avoid)
  4. If the panic attacks are due to you being too passive all the time, this may be a call for you to take a few self-improvement lessons, and boost your confidence.
  5. If the trigger is an external one, get therapy help to be able to “face your fears”. This will help you identify the cause for the phobia and in time allay that fear.
  6. It is also good to take a breather now and then because stress can weaken your ability to fight off a panic attack. Stress also affects many of the functions and systems of your body, which can in turn trigger an attack. If you feel that your stress levels are too high, then it may be time to go on a relaxing vacation. (Find here → 10 Ways to Cope with Stress)
The important thing in trying to stop panic attacks is to identify the underlying cause. This is not something that you can do by yourself effectively, and will need the help of a professional.

Panic and Anxiety Disorder

Recurring panic attacks are the hallmark features of anxiety and panic disorder. Panic attacks are sudden and intense feelings of terror, fear or apprehension, without the presence of actual danger. The symptoms of a panic attack usually happen suddenly, peak within 10 minutes and then subside. However, some attacks may last longer or may occur in succession, making it difficult to determine when one attack ends and another begins.

After having a panic attack, the individual may continue to experience extreme panic disorder symptoms for several hours. More often than not, the panic episode causes excessive worry about having another attack. Sometimes you become so consumed with worry and fear, that you develop behavioral changes in the hopes of avoiding another attack. This may lead to the development of agoraphobia, which complicates recovery and limits your ability to function in usual daily activities.

Treatment of Panic Disorders

The symptoms of panic disorders can be frightening and potentially disabling. But, the vast majority of sufferers will find significant relief with treatment.

Panic disorder is generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both. Online therapy is also a good alternative to try. (See here: CBT based Online Therapy)

The sooner anxiety treatments begin after the onset of panic and anxiety disorder, the more quickly symptom reduction or elimination will be realized. However, even those with long-term symptoms will generally experience improvement with treatment, and most will regain the freedom to resume many of the activities they once enjoyed.

See also: 


  1. Tips on dealing with panic attacks are very useful. Nice informative post...


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