“All of a sudden, I felt a tremendous wave of fear for no reason at all. My heart was pounding, my chest hurt, and it was getting harder to breathe. I thought I was going to die.”
“I’m so afraid. Every time I start to go out, I get that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach and I’m terrified that another panic attack is coming or that some other, unknown terrible thing was going to happen.”
Not having experienced a panic attack personally before, it can be a little difficult to truly understand how it must feel when someone is experiencing one. Some have related that their experiences seem to deal with the Supernatural whilst others claim it is more like a living nightmare.
So I decided to do a little research on the subject matter otherwise like quite a handful I might just have discounted it to be a result of unhealthy living as in poor nutrition and poor spiritual health. This is what I found……….
What are the symptoms of a panic attack?
The symptoms of a panic attack appear suddenly, without any apparent cause. They may include
- racing or pounding heartbeat (palpitations);
- chest pains;
- stomach upset;
- dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea;
- difficulty breathing, a sense of feeling smothered;
- tingling or numbness in the hands;
- hot flashes or chills;
- dreamlike sensations or perceptual distortions;
- terror: a sense that something unimaginably horrible is about to occur and one is powerless to prevent it;
- a need to escape;
- fear of losing control and doing something embarrassing; and fear of dying.
A panic attack typically lasts for several minutes, is one of the most distressing conditions that a person can experience, and its symptoms can closely mimic those of a heart attack. Typically, most people who have one attack will have others, and when someone has repeated attacks with no other apparent physical or emotional cause, or feels severe anxiety about having another attack, he or she is said to have panic disorder. A number of other emotional problems can have panic attacks as a symptom. Some of these illnesses include post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, and intoxication or withdrawal from certain drugs of abuse .
Anxiety attacks that take place while sleeping, also called nocturnal panic attacks, occur less often than do panic attacks during the daytime, but affect about 40%-70% of those who suffer from daytime panic attacks. Nocturnal panic attacks tend to cause sufferers to wake suddenly from sleep in a state of sudden anxiety for no apparent reason and can have all the other symptoms of a panic attack. The duration of nocturnal panic attacks tends to be less than 10 minutes, but it can take much longer to fully calm down for those who experience them.
What are panic attacks?
Panic attacks may be symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Although not very common here in Asia, still some will have panic attacks at some time in their lives, with the peak age at which people have their first panic attack (onset) being 15 to 19 years. Another fact about panic is that this symptom is strikingly different from other types of anxiety; panic attacks are so very sudden and often unexpected, appear to be unprovoked, and are often disabling.
Once someone has had a panic attack, for example, while driving, shopping in a crowded store, or riding in an elevator, he or she may develop irrational fears, called phobias, about these situations and begin to avoid them. Eventually, the pattern of avoidance and level of anxiety about another attack may reach the point where the mere idea of doing things that preceded the first panic attack triggers future panic attacks, resulting in the individual with panic disorder being unable to drive or even step out of the house. At this stage, the person is said to have panic disorder with agoraphobia. Thus, there are two types of panic disorder: panic disorder with or without agoraphobia. Like other major illnesses, panic disorder can have a serious impact on a person’s daily life unless the individual receives effective treatment.
Panic attacks in children may result in the child’s grades declining, avoiding school and other separations from parents, as well as substance abuse, depression, suicidal thoughts, plans, and/or actions.
Are panic attacks serious?
Yes, panic attacks are real, potentially quite emotionally disabling, but they can be controlled with specific treatments. Because of the disturbing symptoms that accompany panic attacks, they may be mistaken for heart attacks or some other life-threatening medical illness. In fact, up to 25% of people who visit emergency rooms because of chest pain are actually experiencing panic. As a result, people with this symptom often undergo extensive medical tests to rule out these other conditions.
Medical personnel generally attempt to reassure the panic-attack sufferer that he or she is not in great danger. But these efforts at reassurance can sometimes add to the patient’s difficulties: If the doctors use expressions such as “nothing serious,” “all in your head,” or “nothing to worry about,” this may give the incorrect impression that there is no real problem and that treatment is not possible or necessary. The point is that while panic attacks can certainly be serious, they are not organ-threatening.
What causes panic attacks?
According to one theory of panic disorder, the body’s normal “alarm system,” the set of mental and physical mechanisms that allows a person to respond to a threat, tends to be triggered unnecessarily, when there is no danger. Scientists don’t know exactly why this happens or why some people are more susceptible to the problem than others. Panic disorder has been found to run in families, and this may mean that inheritance (genes) plays a strong role in determining who will get it. However, many people who have no family history of the disorder develop it. Often, the first attacks are triggered by physical illnesses, a major life stress, or perhaps medications that increase activity in the part of the brain involved in fear reactions. An increase in the frequency of panic attacks has been seen in some women during pregnancy.
What is the treatment for panic attacks?
Thanks to research, there are a variety of treatments available for controlling panic attacks, including several effective medications, and specific forms of psychotherapy. In terms of medications, specific members of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and the benzodiazepine families of medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat panic disorder. Examples of such medications include sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil) from the SSRI group and clonazepam (Klonopin) from the benzodiazepine group. Although alprazolam (Xanax) is often used to treat panic attacks, its short duration of action can sometimes result in having to take it several times per day. Medications from the beta-blocker family (for example, propranolol) are sometimes used to treat the physical symptoms associated with a panic attack.
Before SSRIs became available, medications from the group known as the tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) were often used to address panic disorder. Although TCAs have been found to be equally effective in treating panic attacks, SSRIs have been proven to be safer and better tolerated therefore, TCAs are used much less often. When used in the appropriate person with close monitoring, these medications can be quite effective as part of treatment for panic disorder. However, as anything that is ingested carries risk of side effects, it is important to work closely with the prescribing doctor to decide whether treatment with medications is an appropriate intervention and if so, which medication should be administered. The person being treated should be closely monitored for the possibility of side effects that can vary from minor to severe and in some cases even be life-threatening. Due to the possible risks to the fetus of a mother being treated for panic attacks with medication, psychotherapy should be the first treatment tried when possible in pregnant women.
The psychotherapy component of treatment for panic disorders is at least as important as medication treatment. In fact, research shows that psychotherapy alone or the combination of medication and psychotherapy treatment are more effective than medication alone in overcoming panic attacks. To address anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy is widely accepted as an effective form of psychotherapy. This form of therapy seeks to help those with panic disorder identify and decrease the irrational thoughts and behaviors that reinforce panic symptoms. Behavioral techniques that are often used to decrease anxiety include relaxation techniques and gradually increasing exposure to situations that may have previously precipitated anxiety in the individual. Helping the anxiety sufferer understand the emotional forces that may have contributed to developing symptoms (panic-focused psychodynamic psychotherapy) has also been found to be effective.
Often, a combination of psychotherapy and medications produces good results. Improvement is usually noticed in a fairly short period of time, about two to three months. Thus, appropriate treatment for panic disorder can prevent panic attacks or at least substantially reduce their severity and frequency, bringing significant relief to 70%-90% of people with panic disorder.
There are also things that people with panic disorder can do to help make treatment more effective. Since substances like caffeine, alcohol, and illicit drugs can worsen panic attacks, those things should be avoided. Other tips for managing panic attacks include engaging in aerobic exercise and stress-management techniques like deep breathing and yoga, since these activities have also been found to help decrease the frequency and severity of panic attacks.
In addition, people with panic disorder may need treatment for other emotional problems. Depression has often been associated with panic disorder, as have alcohol and drug abuse. Recent research also suggests that suicide attempts are more frequent in people with panic disorder. Fortunately, these problems associated with panic disorder can be overcome effectively, just like panic disorder itself.
Tragically, many people with panic attacks do not seek or receive treatment.
What happens if panic attacks are not treated?
Panic attacks tend to continue for months or years. While they typically begin in young adulthood, the symptoms may arise earlier or later in life in some people. Complications, which are symptoms that can develop as a result of continued panic attacks, may include: specific irrational fears (phobias), especially of leaving home (agoraphobia); avoidance of social situations, depression, work or school problems, suicidal thoughts or actions; financial problems, and alcohol or other substance abuse. Panic disorder also predisposes sufferers to developing heart disease.
If left untreated, anxiety may worsen to the point where the person’s life is seriously affected by panic attacks and by attempts to avoid or conceal them. In fact, many people have had problems with friends and family, failed in school, and/or lost jobs while struggling to cope with panic attacks. There may be periods of spontaneous improvement in the attacks, but panic attacks do not usually go away unless the person receives treatments designed specifically to help people with panic attacks.
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