If you’ve ever experienced a sudden surge of overwhelming anxiety and fear then you’re familiar with the feeling of having a panic attack. Your heart pounds, you can’t breathe, and you may even feel like you’re dying or going crazy.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is an intense wave of fear characterized by its unexpectedness and debilitating, immobilizing intensity. Panic attacks often strike out of the blue, without any warning, and sometimes with no clear trigger. They may even occur when you're relaxed or asleep.

A panic attack may be a one-time occurrence, although many people experience repeat episodes. Recurrent panic attacks are often triggered by a specific situation, such as crossing a bridge or speaking in public—especially if that situation has caused a panic attack before. Usually, the panic-inducing situation is one in which you feel endangered and unable to escape, triggering the body’s fight-or-flight response.

You may experience one or more panic attacks, yet be otherwise perfectly happy and healthy. Or your panic attacks may occur as part of another disorder, such as panic disorder, social phobia, or depression. Regardless of the cause, panic attacks are treatable. There are strategies you can use to cope with the symptoms as well as effective treatments.

                         

Panic attack signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of a panic attack develop abruptly and usually reach their peak within 10 minutes. They rarely last more than an hour, with most ending within 20 to 30 minutes. Panic attacks can happen anywhere and at any time. You may have one while you’re in a store shopping, walking down the street, driving in your car, or even sitting on the couch at home.

Panic attack symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation

  • Heart palpitations or racing heart

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Choking feeling

  • Feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings

  • Sweating

  • Nausea or upset stomach

  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint

  • Numbness or tingling sensations

  • Hot or cold flashes

  • Fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy

                         

Is it a heart attack or a panic attack?

Most of the symptoms of a panic attack are physical, and many times these symptoms are so severe that you may think you’re having a heart attack. In fact, many people suffering from panic attacks make repeated trips to the doctor or the emergency room in an attempt to get treatment for what they believe is a life-threatening medical problem. While it’s important to rule out possible medical causes of symptoms such as chest pain, elevated heart rate, or difficulty breathing, it’s often panic that is overlooked as a potential cause—not the other way around.

                         

Causes of panic attacks and panic disorder

Although the exact causes of panic attacks and panic disorder are unclear, the tendency to have panic attacks runs in families. There also appears to be a connection with major life transitions such as graduating from college and entering the workplace, getting married, or having a baby. Severe stress, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or job loss can also trigger panic attacks.

Panic attacks can also be caused by medical conditions and other physical causes. If you’re suffering from symptoms of panic, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out the following possibilities:

  1. Mitral valve prolapse, a minor cardiac problem that occurs when one of the heart’s valves doesn't close correctly

  2. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland)

  3. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

  4. Stimulant use (amphetamines, cocaine, caffeine)

  5. Medication withdrawal
     

 

Source: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/panic-attacks-and-panic-disorders.htm

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