Panic Attack : Symptoms, Types and Treatment
A panic attack can strike at any moment, an insidious and unrelenting wave of anxiety and fear that can last from a mere few minutes to a seemingly endless span of hours. This intense episode often brings with it a barrage of physical symptoms - a rapid heartbeat that pounds with fervor, shortness of breath that threatens to suffocate, dizzying spells that sway the mind, sharp pangs in the chest that feel like death itself, and a gnawing sense of impending doom that foretells the worst. The trigger for such an attack can stem from a multitude of causes, from the mundane stress of daily life to more specific situations or environments, and even seemingly innocuous physical sensations.
As the panic attack grips its hold, one may feel like they are losing control, that some terrible fate is closing in. The urge to escape or flee the situation may become overwhelming, and the experience can be so distressing that it leaves a deep impact on the quality of life.
Panic Attack Symptoms
Symptoms of a panic attack can vary from person to person, but common symptoms include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Trembling or shaking
- Choking sensation
- Nausea or abdominal pain
- Feelings of unreality or detachment
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Hot flashes or chills
- Fear of losing control or dying
- A strong urge to escape or flee the situation
Causes of Panic Attacks
The exact cause of panic attacks is not fully understood, but they are thought to be related to changes in the way the brain processes certain emotions and responds to stress. Panic attacks may be triggered by a variety of factors, including:
- Stress: Stressful events or circumstances, such as a significant life change, financial problems, or a traumatic experience, can increase the risk of having a panic attack.
- Genetics: Panic attacks may run in families, suggesting that there may be a genetic component to their development.
- Environmental factors: Certain situations or environments, such as being in a crowded place or driving on a highway, may trigger a panic attack in some people.
- Medical conditions: Panic attacks may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as hyperthyroidism or heart disease.
- Substance abuse: Alcohol or drug abuse may increase the risk of having a panic attack.
- Withdrawal: Withdrawing from certain medications or substances, such as benzodiazepines or caffeine, can trigger panic attacks.
How to Diagnose Panic Attack?
To diagnose a panic attack, a mental health professional will typically do the following:
- Conduct a thorough psychiatric evaluation: This may include asking about your symptoms, medical history, and any other mental health concerns you may have.
- Rule out medical causes: Your mental health professional may recommend certain medical tests to rule out any physical conditions that could be causing your symptoms.
- Diagnose according to criteria in the DSM: The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is a manual used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental health conditions. To diagnose a panic attack, a mental health professional will consider whether your symptoms meet the criteria for a panic attack as outlined in the DSM.
It is important to note that only a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, can diagnose a panic attack.
Types of Panic Attacks
There are two main types of panic attacks:
- Unexpected panic attacks: These are panic attacks that occur without any obvious trigger or warning.
- Expected panic attacks: These are panic attacks that are anticipated or triggered by a specific situation or stimulus. For example, someone with a fear of flying may have a panic attack when they board an airplane.
It is also possible to have a combination of unexpected and expected panic attacks.
In addition to these types of panic attacks, there are also several subtypes of panic disorder, including:
- Panic disorder with agoraphobia: This type of panic disorder is characterized by panic attacks and a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or embarrassing.
- Panic disorder without agoraphobia: This type of panic disorder is characterized by panic attacks without a fear of specific situations.
- Unclassified panic disorder: This type of panic disorder does not fit into either of the above categories.
Treatment for Panic Attacks
Treatment for panic attacks often involves a combination of medication and therapy. The specific treatment plan will depend on the severity and frequency of your panic attacks, as well as any underlying conditions or factors that may be contributing to them.
Medication options for panic attacks may include:
- Antidepressants: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are commonly used to treat panic attacks. These medications work by increasing levels of certain chemicals in the brain, which can help reduce the frequency and severity of panic attacks.
- Benzodiazepines: These medications are fast-acting anti-anxiety medications that can be taken as needed to help reduce the symptoms of a panic attack. However, they can be addictive and are usually not used as a long-term treatment.
Therapy options for panic attacks may include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This type of therapy focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to anxiety.
- Exposure therapy: This type of therapy involves gradually exposing the person to the situations or stimuli that trigger their panic attacks in a controlled and safe environment.
There are several natural remedies that may be helpful in reducing the frequency and severity of panic attacks, although it is important to note that these should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment. Some natural remedies that may be helpful include:
- Exercise: Regular physical activity can help reduce anxiety and improve overall well-being.
- Deep breathing techniques: Taking slow, deep breaths can help calm the body and mind.
- Herbal remedies: Some herbs, such as chamomile, passionflower, and valerian, have been traditionally used to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. It is important to speak to a healthcare professional before taking any herbal remedies, as they can interact with certain medications and may not be suitable for everyone.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture, a form of traditional Chinese medicine, involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body. It is thought to help regulate the body's natural energy flow and may be helpful in reducing anxiety and panic attacks.
- Mindfulness-based therapy: This type of therapy involves paying attention to one's thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way, which can help reduce anxiety and panic attacks.
- Relaxation techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation can help reduce anxiety and manage panic attacks.
It is important to speak to a mental health professional or a healthcare professional before trying any natural remedies, as they may not be suitable for everyone and may not be effective in all cases. It is also important to continue with any prescribed medical treatment while trying natural remedies.