Panic Attacks

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder where the patients experience sudden panic situation or will be under fear for no apparent reason. Panic situation may be experienced by every individual in their life time at few occasions however if this is repetitive and bothering an individual frequently then it is a chronic condition that requires appropriate medical care.

A panic attack is a sudden strong feeling of intense fear and panic. The panic attacks may occur at any place or time. It occurs suddenly and with no apparent reason but is usually triggered by a specific event or thought. The panic attack usually lasts for short duration. Individuals when having a panic attack believe that they are losing control and are on the verge of death. Panic attacks may also be experienced during sleep and the individuals may wake up in a state of fear.

The physical symptoms of a panic attack are

  • Increased heart beat
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness and weakness
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Profuse sweating or chills
  • Nausea

The person may have repeated panic attacks or may fear that it may happen again. The person who once had a panic attack starts associating the previous events and places with the reason for the panic attack. Some individuals may develop the fear of social gathering or going to outside places (agoraphobia). Panic disorders are more common in adolescents and kids.


Body’s natural “fight or flight response” is thought to play a role in panic attacks. Fight or flight response is body’s mechanism that drive the energy through release of certain brain chemicals as a response to stress. In panic disorder this response occurs suddenly even in the absence of any foreseeable danger. Family history, stress and improper brain chemistry are the factors causing this type of abnormal response in certain individuals.


Panic attacks are not the conditions they get resolved over time without any treatment and instead they worsen with time. Moreover the physical symptoms of a panic attack resemble that of a heart attack. The correct diagnosis is thus very important and examination by a doctor should be done at the earliest. Thus apart from checking the vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and others, your mental health professional will also do electrocardiogram and other tests to determine if the symptoms were because of the heart disease or anxiety disorder. In case the anxiety disorder is diagnosed medications are given along with the psychotherapy. Broadly the medications are same for all anxiety disorders and include anti-anxiety agents or antidepressants. Psychotherapy includes cognitive behavioural therapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy to help patient to learn to control the symptoms of a panic attack.

Panic disorder must be diagnosed early and treated appropriately. If left untreated may lead to various complications such as:

  • Other phobias especially of leaving home and going outside (agoraphobia)
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

In addition to medications and psychotherapy, certain simple lifestyle changes may help you better manage the panic attacks.

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