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
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)
Exaggerated adrenaline response to ‘fight or flight situations’
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
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