A panic attack is a brief phase of intense fear and anxiety that ocuurs in a short instance or suddenly. It makes the person dizzy and short of breath. It is a truly terrifying phase that happens without a warning or a reason.
It makes the person extremely nervous and gives the sense as if the person is going crazy. The period of a panic attack can last anywhere between minutes to a few hours. Commonly, these attacks have a period of about 10 minutes. These attacks are not related to any external threats but it disables the person suffering from its terrifying physical symptoms like racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling, and muscle tension.
This phase of sudden deep anxiety is common worldwide. More than 35% of the population will experience at least one attack in their lifetime. It can also develop as a disorder that comes with prolonged panic attacks but these can be managed and even stopped with treatment and therapy. It is important to manage panic attacks as they affect the quality of life even though it is not life-threatening.
A panic attack manifests in a body in different ways. Some people might have extreme manifestations that feel like having a heart attack but for some, it might be milder which usually feels like a rush throughout their body with extreme fear and shakiness.
What are the symptoms of a panic attack?
The experience of a panic attack episode differs for every individual. These attacks involve a combination of emotions, physical symptoms, and a feeling of cognitive impairment. The experience is extremely terrifying which makes the person feel embarrassed. The person having a panic attack will not have the same symptoms but will include many of the below-mentioned ones:
1. Extreme chest pain
2. Difficulty breathing
3. Racing heartbeat
4. Excessive sweating
5. Feeling dizzy and about to faint
6. Uncontrolled trembling
7. Heat flashes
8. Feeling nauseous
9. Random chills
10. Choking sensation
11. Numb body
12. Dry mouth
13. Ringing ears
14. Churning stomach
15. Tingling limbs
15. A feeling of losing control over the body
16. Extreme fear
17. Feel like about to die
The symptoms of a panic disorder include:
1. Repeated panic attacks
2. Fear of getting a panic attack
3. Hampering daily activities due to reoccurring attacks or the fear of reoccurring panic attacks
For a doctor to diagnose if the person is having a panic attack, other possible life-threatening medical conditions like heart problems should be ruled out. To rule out other possible medical conditions an electric function test of the heart is done, which is usually follows by a hormonal balance check, thyroid check, and a full blood test.
What causes panic attacks?
The exact cause of a panic attack or panic disorder is unknown but we know that these attacks have a long term biological, environmental, or social causes.
Biological causes that might contribute to a person developing a panic disorder or a panic attack involves genetics and the personality of the person. Other disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder, hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism, ear disturbances, dysregulation of norepinephrine symptoms, post-traumatic stress disorder may also cause panic attacks in an individual. The number of women experiencing panic attacks is more than men.
Extreme stressful situations like personal loss, drastic lifestyle changes, or a generally stressful lifestyle may be a trigger for panic disorders. People often experience panic attacks when exposed to their phobias or in situations where they’ve experienced extreme anxiety previously.
Panic attacks are caused due to substance abuse history in many cases. Sudden discontinuation or significant reduction in dose of drugs like an antidepressant, marijuana, cocaine, nicotine, etc.
Why does a panic attack occur?
Panic attacks occur as a defense mechanism. When a body senses danger, the brain orders the autonomic nervous system to activate a mode that alerts the body and protects it. It is called ‘flight or fight’ response of the body. Situations like chronic ongoing stress, medical conditions, traumatic event, intense exercise, excessive caffeine, substance abuse, etc might activate the flight or fight response in a body. The body is flooded with chemicals like adrenaline that cause physiological changes in the body, preparing it for danger. This chemical triggers other physical symptoms like racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, tingling sensation, etc.
How are panic attacks treated?
Once your doctor confirms that you had a panic attack, the underlying cause causing those attacks are treated to control further panic attacks. According to the probable cause of your attack, you will be referred to a doctor. The treatment of panic attacks is usually a combination of pharmaceuticals, therapy, and changes in lifestyle.
The major Takeup steps for controlling panic attacks are:
1. Serotonin inhibitors cased SSRI. This line of medication causes less side effects than other medications and are therefore used as the first line of treatment
2. T he other line of medication depress the central nervous system. They have sedative effects which help in the case of acute panic attacks.
3. Beta-blockers are also used to reduce the symptoms associated with panic attacks like racing heartbeat, sweating, etc.
4. The other method used in managing or preventing panic attacks is going to psychotherapy. These therapies address the behavioral patterns which help in self-awareness and thus reduction of fear and anxiety. It will also help you to retrain your brain to compose yourself in case of a panic attack.
5. Support groups also provide therapeutic benefits by encouraging uplifting to each other.
In order to control panic attacks, the most important thing is changing your lifestyle to a healthier version.
This means making sure that you get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, stay physically active, and most importantly reduce stress or any other triggers from your life altogether. You will have to stop intoxicating yourself and be in control of your body.
Panic attacks can be controlled and further by using a combination of all of these aforementioned methods.
Who are at risk for a panic disorder?
Panic attacks can occur to anybody at a point in their life. It can happen at any age and any situation without any warning but there are a few situations that make an individual more prone to panic attacks. Some of the situations where a person is at risk of getting a random panic attack are:
1. Family history of anxiety or panic disorders
2. Stress cumulated environment
3. After a tragic incident
4. Use of drugs, cigarettes, or caffeine
5. History of mental illness or abuse
What to do during a panic attack?
A person who has experienced a panic attack or is aware of panic attacks can usually tell that they’re about have one. Although the situation will be extremely scary, there are a few things that can be done will might help you during a panic attack or even completely prevent a frightening panic attack:
1. Do not try to fight or stop it
2. Stay still or lie down
3. Take deep breaths but make sure to not hyperventilate
4. Remind yourself that it will only last a few minutes
5. Try diverting your mind. Look for things you can see, feel and smell
6. Remind yourself that you’re not going to die
Panic attacks feel very exhausting and extremely frightening but they do not usually require medical assistance. If you are sure about having a panic attack, you can practice the aforementioned tips and visit a specialist later to get help but if you are not sure about having a panic attack it is advised to go to an emergency room to rule out other medical issues like a heart attack.
It is advised to go to an ER if the person has other health complications beforehand. If you find anybody having a panic attack, it is advised to call for help or dial 911 if the person does not seem to do well. It is always better to get help from a professional.
Either way, it is important to visit a doctor and get the required help to control panic attacks. Panic attacks can happen anytime but If they are not treated it might cause complications that become very difficult to deal with. You are at risk of developing a drug problem or even phobias are this disorder escalates.
What happens after a panic attack?
After the peak of a pain attack, the symptom’s intensity slowly declines. The extreme nervousness and rapid heartbeat decrease but there are a few things that happen in a body that will last for some time even after the symptoms subside.
The body feels warm and the stomach cramps. Results have shown that the level of carbon dioxide in the body is lower than normal. The sugar level of the body spikes as a response to adrenaline. Mentally the person will feel extreme fear even after the attack has passed.