Facts on Panic Attacks

By: Joe Swails

What are panic attacks?
Panic attacks are random episodes of intense fear and anxiety. The sufferer experiences a sudden rush of emotional and physical symptoms which come without any obvious reason, and without warning.

Although everyone experiences anxiety and panic during their lifetimes, particularly when faced with dangerous or stressful situations, panic attacks are different: they can occur without any apparent trigger, and also cause anxiety in-between attacks, due to their unpredictable nature. The attacks can recur and become regular, often for no apparent reason, and, for some people, can occur several times per week.

Symptoms of panic attacks include:

Overwhelming feelings of anxiety

Heart palpitations




Shortness of breath

A feeling of dread, and even

A fear of dying

Panic attacks can occur anywhere and at any time, lasting from between 2 seconds to about 15 minutes. For some people, the symptoms can be terrifying because it can feel as if you are actually having a heart attack. All this adds to your sense of panic, compounding your anxiety.

Although the exact causes of panic attacks are unclear, they may occur as a result of:

Stressful life experiences (which may be at the root of emotional distress)

Dietary problems

Breathing problems

Exaggerated adrenaline response to ‘fight or flight situations’

Personality traits

Unstable blood sugar levels

Caffeine levels, cigarettes, alcohol and some prescription medication

Abnormalities in some neurotransmitters in the brain, and


If you feel you may be suffering from panic attacks then make an appointment with your GP. Although panic attacks can be extremely upsetting, try to explain your symptoms as best you can – your GP will be familiar with the disorder and will be experienced in asking you relevant questions in order to make an accurate diagnosis (questions such as: how often your symptoms occur, in what situations, and how you feel when experiencing an attack). He or she will also ask you about your medical history and your mental health history.

After diagnosis, your GP will then give you the most appropriate treatment for your individual situation.

Effect on your life
During a panic attack, your body’s normal response to stress, excitement or fear is greatly exaggerated. Also, you may feel permanently on edge, irritable and even impatient because you simply don’t know when the next attack may strike. This can lead you to feeling isolated, debilitated and depressed, and can also increase your risk of developing other psychological conditions such as agoraphobia (a fear of open spaces) or social phobia (a fear of social situations). That is why it is crucial that you seek diagnosis and treatment.

Children can experience particularly debilitating panic attacks too. The fear of an attack can stop them from engaging in everyday life/activities with others, and also from going to school.

Although there is no actual cure for panic attacks, there is treatment available which is intended to at least help ease the severity of symptoms. These include:

Psychological therapy (such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or ‘CBT’)

Self-help techniques (such as creative visualisation and relaxation techniques), and

Medication (such as anti-depressants)

If these treatments prove unsuccessful, your GP may refer you to a mental health specialist.

Advice & Support
No Panic
Helpline: 0808 808 0545 (free phone)
Website: www.nopanic.org.uk

Anxiety Care
Helpline: (020) 8478 3400 (Mondays & Wednesdays 9.45am – 3.45pm)
Website: www.anxietycare.org.uk


This information and advice is not intended to replace the advice of your GP or chemist. Chemist Online is also not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based upon the content of the Chemist Online website. Chemist Online is also not liable for the contents of any external internet sites listed, nor does it endorse any commercial product or service mentioned or advised on any of the sites.

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