Panic Attacks Overview and Guide
Panic attacks are a sudden episode of fear that is intense and seems to come on for no apparent reason. These attacks will trigger physical reactions that are severe and can cause difficulty with breathing and may even cause an individual to feel like they are losing control. Panic attacks are a severe form of anxiety that may feel like a heart attack or like the person is dying.
Not everyone will suffer from a panic attack in their lifetime but for some, these severe anxiety attacks may come one unexpectedly and repeatedly making the fear of another attack even more prominent. People with panic disorder suffer from multiple panic attacks that cause problems for them over and over again and may need help or medication in order to relieve some of the symptoms of panic attacks.
Panic attacks are recognized as a serious medical condition that is separate from any other type of condition. In previous years, panic attacks were thought to be brought on by stress or nervousness but they are now seen as their own individual medical condition. There is treatment for panic attacks such as medication and in some cases therapy depending on the severity of the condition and the individual.
Symptoms of Panic Attacks
Panic attacks may feel to the individual like they are having a heart attack. The heart may pound hard and the person suffering the attack may even feel the heart in their chest as well as the beating sound in their head. Panic attacks cause the individual to feel shortness of breath, dizziness and even nausea.
Depending on the severity of the panic attack the individual may feel just a few symptoms or they may feel many different symptoms. Rapid heart rate, sweating and trembling are all common when experiencing a panic attack. Additionally, chills or hot flashes may also come on during panic. An individual may feel dizzy or lightheaded as though they are going to pass out.
Some people have reported feeling like they can’t breath when they are having a panic attack. For the individual it’s the feeling of knowing that they have to breath but they just can’t seem to take a breath. This type of symptom of a panic attack can become very scary for the individual and may cause them to feel like the are dying or might die. Another common symptom of panic attacks is the inability to swallow or a difficulty in swallowing.
Panic attacks begin suddenly and usually come on without any warning. They may strike when at work or school, while driving or while sound asleep. Most symptoms of a panic attack will peak within about 10 minutes of the onset of the attack and then they will usually reside within about half an hour. Following a panic attack the individual who suffered the attack may feel exhausted or fatigued.
This type of anxiety disorder causes increased fear of additional attacks because the panic is so severe that the individual worries about it happening again. Such anxiety can make it difficult for the individual having the panic attack to leave the house or to take part in activities that may have caused the first or subsequent panic attacks.
Effects of Panic Attacks
When left untreated, panic attacks can result in severe complications with living and performing daily or routine tasks. Such severe anxiety may cause an individual to live in constant fear of another attack and such fear can ruin the quality of a person’s life. There are many other complications that may arise as a result of panic attacks depending on the severity of the panic attacks and on how often such panic attacks arise.
People who have panic attacks may suffer from phobias or fear of certain things such as driving or leaving the house. Panic attacks that happen when an individual takes part in a particular task can cause fear of that type of attack coming on again when the person takes part in a similar activity. People who have panic attacks may avoid social situations or have problems at work, home or school.
For some, the severe anxiety of a panic attack will cause suicidal thoughts. Panic attacks are also likely to cause depression and other mood disorders. People who have panic attacks regularly may abuse alcohol or drugs in an attempt to prevent the severe anxiety or to numb the symptoms of a panic attack.
Treatment for Panic Attacks
Depending on the severity of the panic attack disorder the individual may be treated in one of many ways. Medication and therapy are both common forms of treatment for panic attacks. Psychotherapy is the most common type of therapy to be used by counselors and rehab centers for the treatment of panic attacks and anxiety disorders. Both medication and psychotherapy have been proven effective for treating panic attacks.
Various types of medication are offered for the treatment of panic attacks. SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are antidepressant medications that have low risk of side effects and are generally prescribed for the treatment of panic attacks. Other types of antidepressants may also be prescribed such as SNRIs or TCAs but these sometimes have more serious risk of side effects and are usually prescribed as a last resort medication for the treatment of panic attacks.
Severe panic attacks can often be treated with psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on helping people to change the behaviors that cause or trigger the panic attacks in order to better cope with the anxiety that comes. A therapist will help an individual who suffers from panic attacks to realize the situations that cause the panic and what makes the anxiety worse and then they will work to correct and change behaviors in a positive way that will help the individual to get through the panic attack quickly and without such high anxiety.
Sometimes, cognitive behavioral therapy will include an “exposure” session in which the individual is exposed to a situation in which the panic attack is likely to strike. The therapist will provide a safe environment for the individual to deal with the anxiety and the then the therapist will help the individual to understand how to cope with the anxiety in an effective way. Over time and with multiple exposures to anxiety most times the individual can learn effective ways to get past the anxiety quickly and with less stress.
Rehab centers may also provide psychodynamic psychotherapy that focuses on increasing the awareness of unconscious thoughts and behaviors. This type of therapy involves the therapist helping the individual to learn about how their mind works to identify the emotional conflict that creates the panic attack anxiety. Therapists at rehab centers will help the individual to learn healthy ways to respond to conflict. Such therapy provides an effective short-term treatment option for panic disorder and may be used in conjunction with other treatment methods.