Panic attacks tend to strike suddenly and without warning. In general, people experiencing a panic attack feel a sudden onset of terror or existential dread, often indescribable, and may fear they are losing control or dying. Along with a general sense of fear, panic attacks typically have tell-tale physical signs.
A fear-inducing factor of panic attacks is that physical symptoms often mirror serious conditions like heart attacks, which makes experiencing a panic attack all the more alarming.
Because panic attacks can occur at any time and for several reasons, they are often difficult to prevent or eliminate. However, knowing the signs and symptoms of a panic attack and seeking medical advice can help you mitigate the effects.
Panic attacks can be triggered by surroundings or as a response to trauma. However, they are often not tied to the situation at hand, making them difficult to identify.
Key characteristics of a panic attack include:
Panic attacks tend to be brief, with symptoms subsiding after around 10 minutes. However, panic attacks can last much longer, especially when someone is experiencing one for the first time.
If you experience the symptoms of a panic attack, seek medical attention immediately. It may seem excessive, but it’s crucial to rule out a serious issue like a heart attack.
To diagnose a panic attack, doctors typically ask about symptoms, medical history, and lifestyle habits and may also wish to conduct a physical exam. To rule out a heart attack, your doctor may measure your heart function using an EKG machine. If they suspect a thyroid issue or other hormone imbalance is the culprit, they may recommend having bloodwork done.
If your doctor does not find evidence of an underlying condition, they will likely diagnose a panic attack and may consider the possibility of a panic disorder based on your symptoms and risk factors.
A panic disorder is typically present if the patient:
People who have had a panic attack tend to be at greater risk for subsequent attacks. If panic attacks occur repeatedly, it may suggest the presence of a panic disorder.
Although the nature of attacks varies, panic attacks have been classified into three main categories:
Determining the origin of a panic attack can be difficult, as several different elements may be at play during an attack. However, they can often be traced back to some of the following factors:
Panic attacks are typically treated using medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, or a combination of the three. If your doctor suspects an underlying mental health condition, they may refer you to a mental health specialist for treatment. If you are experiencing panic attacks, talk to a licensed medical professional about which option is best for you.