Panic Attacks

What is a panic attack?

Panic attacks are episodes of sudden intense fear or anxiety, accompanied by physical symptoms that can peak within minutes. They can last seconds or hours, but most last from 5 to 20 minutes. They can occur without warning, even during a previous state of calm. Their intensity, duration and the number of symptoms that manifest can vary from episode to episode and from person to person.

Feelings of anxiety, fear and the physical sensations of a knot in the stomach and a heartbeat may lead patients to think that they are having a heart attack, or that the episode is symptomatic of heart disease, respiratory disorders or even thyroid disease. Many patients who suffer a panic attack for the first time often call an ambulance, but it is usually not necessary to go to the hospital. Although extremely distressing and unpleasant, panic attacks are usually not dangerous and do not require hospital treatment.

Prognosis of the disease

Panic attacks can be long and complex to treat. There is a chance that some people will not be cured, but a large proportion will improve with the right treatment. People who suffer from panic attacks are more likely to:

  • Use illicit drugs or alcohol
  • Be less productive at work or are unemployed.
  • Suffer marital problems or have complicated personal relationships.
  • Lose autonomy to go to places or places alone.
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What are the symptoms of panic attacks?

In addition to extreme feelings of panic and anxiety, panic attacks are accompanied by various physical symptoms. “Complex” panic attacks involve four or more symptoms while some people may experience “limited symptom” panic attacks consisting of fewer than four. Typical symptoms are:

  • Rapid heart rate/ palpitations.
  • Shortness of breath/ hyperventilation
  • Sweating
  • Seizures
  • Numbness
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness/dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Choking sensation
  • Intense fear that something bad is going to happen (for example, death).

Panic attacks are sudden episodes of anger, phobia or panic.

What causes panic attacks?

Panic attacks are basically caused by the body suddenly going into “fight or flight mode”. This consists of natural or built-in mechanisms in our body, which have evolved to be able to cope with danger, either fighting off the attacker or running away. To do either of these things, we must be as fast and strong as possible, so our body is flooded with adrenaline, which speeds up our breathing and heart rate to get more oxygen out of our body and out of our cells as fast as possible to deal with the threat. This causes most of the physical symptoms.

This fight or flight response is triggered by the sudden onset of fear. What triggers that fear is more difficult to explain; in some cases, phobias, emotional circumstances or stressful situations may be the cause, but in many cases there is no obvious reason. However, once the physical symptoms begin, they can frighten the patient even more, causing the release of more adrenaline which only worsens the symptoms.

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People suffering from other conditions can also suffer from panic attacks, which means that the other condition is the cause of the panic attack. Such conditions include PTSD, OCD, hyperthyroidism, social anxiety disorder and depression. People who regularly experience panic attacks may be diagnosed with panic disorder.

Medical tests for panic attacks

Most people who have panic attacks first go to the emergency room because the symptoms may confuse the patient into thinking they are having a heart attack. The specialist will perform a physical examination and psychiatric evaluation. Blood tests will also be performed in order to rule out other medical disorders before making a diagnosis of panic disorder. Substance use disorders should also be considered, as some effects may be mistaken for a panic attack.

Causes of panic attacks

The causes of panic attacks are currently unknown, however genes may be key. Other members of the same family may suffer from these attacks, but they may often occur even if there is no family history. It is a disorder twice as common in women as in men. Symptoms begin before the age of 25 and can last up to the age of 35. Children can also suffer from panic attacks but they are not diagnosed until they are adults.

How can they be prevented?

Some patients try to avoid panic attacks by avoiding situations that might be stressful, increase their heart rate or that they associate with having panic attacks. While avoiding drugs and tobacco and reducing caffeine intake are good ideas for a number of reasons, other things such as exercise are recommended by doctors; in fact, exercise can be a way to relieve stress. While identifying the source of stress and what triggers panic attacks is a good strategy, it is important not to restrict daily life.

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What is the treatment?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be helpful in identifying the causes and negative thoughts that could lead to panic attacks. Apart from this and lifestyle changes, there is no real treatment.

However, there are techniques to control symptoms when panic attacks occur. Breathing exercises and mental connection techniques, such as listing five things you see, hear, feel, etc. are helpful for many patients. Experts recommend not leaving the situation if possible, confronting the source of the fear and overcoming the attack. Of course, each case and each patient is different and should see a doctor to learn how to improve their problem.

Medications for panic attacks

Treatment should be with antidepressants and occasionally anxiolytics (especially benzodiazepines).

Among the most effective antidepressants can be used: Paroxetine (the most effective), Sertraline (very useful in children and adolescents) Escitalopram Venlafaxine.

Among the anxiolytics: Benzodiazepines group Alprazolam (very useful in crisis) Diazepam (useful in emergencies and crises). Lorazepam is used in injected form.

Which specialist treats panic attacks?

The specialist who treats panic attacks is the Psychiatrist or Psychologist. From Top doctors you can make an appointment to visit a specialist in order to treat panic attacks.