Panic Attacks: Episodes Of Fear, Anxiety Minus the Danger

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If you are overcome from time to time by a sudden sense of fear, anxiety, or even doom – along with physical symptoms, like a racing heart, shortness of breath, or dizziness – you may be suffering from panic attacks.

These attacks can be debilitating and can arise without warning, when there is no real danger. They can get in the way of your daily life. And, if they occur often enough, they can be considered a panic disorder. 

Panic disorders are characterized by panic attacks that happen without anything specific provoking them, says Matthew Stone, DO.

Having a panic attack can cause sudden and intense feelings of fear that show themselves in physical ways, including:

  • Dread that you might die
  • Feeling like choking
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tremors

The cause of panic attacks is unknown, and they could be related to genetic or environmental factors.

They can occur as often as several times a day, or you might only have one once or twice a year.

“The difficulty with panic attacks – because they’re so unpredictable – is that people often become fearful of going out into other activities because they may experience a panic attack,” Dr. Stone says. “People begin to do social isolation, so panic attacks can be quite crippling, even with just a few small attacks.”

Treatment And Management

Dr. Stone recommends that you call your health care provider for an evaluation if you think you’ve had a panic attack.

“There are many other physical and psychological conditions that mimic panic attacks,” he says. “So, before we make that diagnosis, you really want to make sure you’ve had a thorough medical evaluation.”

Cardiac disorders, pulmonary disorders, and endocrine disorders are among the numerous conditions that have symptoms resembling panic attacks.

If you have panic attacks, your health care provider can help treat them with medication or with psychotherapy, which Dr. Stone says are both equally effective. Your provider can help you decide the treatment option that’s right for you.

Panic attacks generally last between 10 minutes and a half hour. If you have have panic attack symptoms that last longer, it’s important to seek medical attention to make sure you don't have a more serious health problem, such as a heart or neurological condition.

“Probably the most important thing you could do for a patient who has panic attacks is to just sit with them, remain calm, hold their hand, and be very reassuring,” Dr. Stone says.

Dr. Stone explains what panic attacks are and how they’re treated.

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