A panic attack is a sudden and overwhelming feeling of extremely intense anxiety, which is disabling to the individual. A person who experiences panic attacks in a chronic manner, may have panic disorder. Panic disorder often occurs in conjunction with other severe mental illnesses, such as substance abuse disorders, depression, bipolar and schizophrenia. However, it can occur on its own.
Quite often, you may see the terms ‘panic attack’ and ‘anxiety attack’ being used interchangeably, however this is not necessarily the case. Anxiety attacks tend to intensify over a duration of time, usually during periods when the individual is experiencing excessive worry; whereas panic attacks tend to occur suddenly and with no reason.
The causes of panic disorder are not entirely understood, though it is believed to be cause by a combination of factors, including both environmental and biological factors. These factors include:
– family history
– abnormalities of the brain
– substance use and abuse
– traumatic events / major life transitions
Symptoms of Panic Attacks
The symptoms of a panic attack will often occur suddenly, with the duration of the panic attack typically lasting for 5 to 20 minutes; although they can be longer or shorter depending on the individual and the given circumstances. During a panic attack you may experience:
– difficult breathing / feeling short of breath (hyperventilation)
– pounding heartbeat / palpitations
– intense feeling of dread
– dizziness / feeling faint
– chest pains
– choking sensation
– tingling / numbness in limbs (typically your fingers and toes)
– ringing in your ears
When experiencing a panic attack, many individuals think that they are having a heart attack or are actually going to die; others may feel that they are about to lose control or consciousness. However, these are merely the symptoms of a panic attack, and although it may feel as if there is something seriously wrong with you at the time, they should not cause you any harm and are not dangerous.
Another key symptom of panic disorder, is the constant and persistent fear of the next panic attack occurring. Which, in turn, can cause another panic attack to occur, therefore creating a vicious cycle of panic attacks.
Treatment for Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is typically treated using medication and psychotherapy, as well as with a great deal of self care such as using breathing or relaxation techniques.
Psychotherapy involves addressing the individuals emotional response to the mental illness, a trained professional will talk the individual through strategies which can be used in order to understand and cope with their illness. There are several anti-depressant medications which are used to treat panic disorder, as well as anti-anxiety medications.
Breathing and relaxation techniques are used and most beneficial when the panic attack occurs, it is possible to end a panic attack through these techniques; though this may take a lot of practise.