Panic attacks happen when someone is feeling extreme anxiety about something. The onset is sudden and the symptoms are acute. Those suffering a panic attack may feel they are having a heart attack or what they are going through is the lead up to one. So intense are the feelings that some may feel they are dying.
The symptoms of a panic attack may appear suddenly without there being a real cause. The physical symptoms include a pounding or racing heart, difficulty in breathing and chest pains, diarrhea or nausea, dizziness, faintness, a tingling or numbing in the hands and hot flushes or chills.
There are also mental symptoms like feeling a desperate need to escape, experiencing a dreamlike sensation, feeling terror, fearing the loss of control or of doing something embarrassing and finally, the fear of dying.
Another key symptom is the fear of having another panic attack in the future. It is common for a person who has had one attack to have others. This fear of a repeat attack can lead the person to go out of their way to avoid the place or situation where the first attack occurred or where they think it likely to reoccur. This might go on to develop into a phobia.
Panic attacks can happen suddenly and unexpectedly and this is what differentiates them from other types of anxiety. Their onset is usually unprovoked and the fear of going through another one in a public place can be disabling.
Panic attacks themselves can be a symptom of an anxiety disorder. If sufferers establish a pattern of anxiety and avoidance, they are diagnosed with a panic disorder. This disorder can seriously affect quality of life unless effective treatment is obtained.
Nearly 3 million Americans (1.7% of the population) suffer from panic attacks at some point in their lives and the average age of the first experience is between 15 and 19.
A panic attack can be a most distressing experience and will typically last for several minutes. As symptoms so closely resemble those of a heart attack, fear of the attack itself is created as sufferers believe that what is happening is the lead up to death.
There are also nocturnal panic attacks which occur while the person is sleeping, though they are less common. Between 40% – 70% of day time sufferers will experience a night time attack. In this case, the sufferer wakes up suddenly in a state of extreme anxiety caused for no apparent reason and will go on to have all the classic symptoms of a panic attack. Even though the nocturnal attack usually lasts less than 10 minutes, the episode is so upsetting that the time it takes to calm down again can be a lot longer.
Not everybody reports the same symptoms when suffering a panic attack but the state of mind is the same for all – an intense, uncontrollable fear.