If you have an occasional panic attack, no treatment other than explanation and reassurance is usually needed. If you have recurring panic attacks, see your doctor as treatment can often help.
What are panic attacks?
A panic attack is a severe attack of anxiety and fear which occurs suddenly, often without warning, and for no apparent reason. Various other symptoms then occur during an attack. Such panic attack symptoms may include one or more of the following:
- Palpitations or a thumping heart.
- Sweating and trembling.
- Hot flushes or chills.
- Feeling short of breath, sometimes with choking sensations.
- Chest pains.
- Feeling sick.
- Feeling dizzy, or faint.
- Fear of dying or going crazy.
- Numbness, or pins and needles.
- Feelings of unreality, or being detached from yourself.
The physical symptoms that occur with panic attacks do not mean there is a physical problem with the heart, chest, etc. The symptoms mainly occur because of an overdrive of nervous impulses from the brain to various parts of the body during a panic attack.
During a panic attack you tend to over-breathe (hyperventilate). If you over-breathe you blow out too much carbon dioxide which changes the acidity in the blood. This can then cause more symptoms such as confusion and cramps, and make palpitations, dizziness, and pins and needles worse. This can make the attack seem even more frightening, and make you over-breathe even more, and so on.
A panic attack usually lasts 5-10 minutes, but sometimes they come in waves for up to two hours.
Who gets panic attacks?
At least 1 in 10 people have occasional panic attacks. The tend to occur mostly in young adults. Twice as many women than men have panic attacks. Anyone can have a panic attack, but they also tend to run in some families.
What causes panic attacks?
Panic attacks usually occur for no apparent reason. The cause is not clear. Stressful life events such as a bereavement may sometimes trigger a panic attack.
Dealing with a panic attack
To ease a panic attack, or to prevent one from getting worse, breathe as slowly and as deeply as you can. Really focus on your breathing. Learning and using relaxation techniques may also help.
What is the treatment for a panic attack?
No regular treatment is needed if you have just an occasional panic attack. You may find it helpful to:
- Understand about panic attacks, and the cause of the symptoms.
- Know that any physical symptoms which occur do not mean that you have a serious disease. For example, some people find it helpful to know that the palpitations or chest pains they had during a panic attack were not due to a heart or chest problem.
- Know how to deal with a panic attack (see above).
If you have frequent or recurring panic attacks, this is called panic disorder. Treatment to prevent panic attacks is an option if you develop panic disorder. See separate leaflet called 'Panic Disorder'.
Further reading & references
- Taylor CB; Panic disorder. BMJ. 2006 Apr 22;332(7547):951-5.
|Original Author: Dr Tim Kenny||Current Version: Dr Laurence Knott||Peer Reviewer: Dr Tim Kenny|
|Last Checked: 27/07/2010||Document ID: 4463 Version: 38||© EMIS|
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.