Published on 19 September 2021

Panic Attack Disorder: Signs, Causes, Treatment

General Psychology panic-attack-disorder-signs-causes-treatment
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In stressful or dangerous situations, we are all prone to feelings of Anxiety and panic. A panic attack is an intense situation of fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there’s no real danger. It’s a natural response to traumatic & threatening situations.

A panic attack may occur only once in a while, even though many people experience repeat episodes. Repeated panic attacks are often triggered in a specific situation, such as speaking in public or crossing a bridge. Generally, panic-inducing situations happen when you feel you are in danger and unable to escape.

Suppose you experience one or more panic attacks. In that case, it is a perfectly fine situation, or your panic attack occurs due to another disorder such as social phobia, panic disorder, or depression. But still, all of these problems are treatable. There are many treatments to eliminate panic disorder symptoms, regain confidence, and regain control of life. 

A panic attack is a type of Anxiety disorder that can be very frightening. When panic attacks trigger, you might think that your heart will stop or that something terrible has happened.
Ever experienced an unexpected surge of overwhelming fear & Anxiety? Explore the following guidelines about panic attacks, including symptoms, treatment, & self-help tips.

What Is A Panic Attack?

A panic attack is a terrifying, unexpected wave of intense fear in ordinary or non-threatening situations. Your heart pounds as you can’t breathe, you may sweat a lot, and it feels like death or having a heart attack. 

You may never know when a panic attack will trigger. It can often appear out of the blue without any warning. They may even hit you when you are asleep or relaxed.

Sometimes Panic attacks also occur physically. If you might feel like you are having a heart attack, such as trembling, sweating a lot, or having a rapid heart rate. Panic attacks may occur at any time. Some people with panic attacks are apprehensive about having another attack and might try to change their life to avoid another attack. A panic attack can occur several times a day or a few times a year( very rare).

What Is A Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is a part of Anxiety disorder. It causes a panic attack. You might suffer from panic disorder when you have a panic attack multiple times. Which is when you suddenly start feeling very anxious or nervous even though there is no danger around you.

You may feel like you're dying or losing control. A panic attack can be triggered at any time or place without warning. Panic attack disorders often start in the late teenage group or early adulthood. Women are more likely to develop panic attacks compared to men.

Many individuals have experienced just one or two panic attacks in their lifetime, and the problem drives away after the stressful situation ends. But if a person has experienced recurrent, unexpected panic attacks & spent time in constant fear of another attack, they may develop a condition called panic disorder.

Panic Attack vs Panic Disorder

Panic disorder always involves panic attacks, but having a panic attack doesn’t means you have panic disorder. Many people face a panic attack at some point, but having it several times or constantly living with some fear is called panic disorder. For diagnosing the panic disorder, your doctor will look at the number of panic attacks you had and the frequency of attacks.   

What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Panic Disorder?

The signs and symptoms of panic attacks develop unexpectedly & reach their peak within 10 minutes. Rarely do they last for an hour, while most of them end within 20-30 minutes. You may experience panic attacks anywhere and at any time. Some of the common symptoms include the following:

  • Trembling or shaking 
  • An intense worrying about when the next panic attack will happen
  • Choking feeling 
  • Sweating
  • Chest discomfort 
  • shortness of breath
  • Fear of death, loss of control, or going crazy
  • Numbness
  • Rapid heart rate 
  • Chills.

The symptoms of panic attacks often occur without any reason. Since these attacks are unpredictable, they can significantly affect your functioning. Fear of a panic attack or recalling the one that has just occurred can result in another, more intense episode.

Complications Of Panic Attacks Disorder

Panic attack disorder can affect the whole life. You might be afraid of more panic attacks that your continuously in fear and ruining your current quality of life. The complication that panic attack can cause includes.

  • Frequent medical care or health problem
  • Problems at work/ school
  • Depression and other mental illnesses
  • Evolved specific Phobias such as fear of driving or leaving home alone
  • Substance Abuse (misuse of alcohol or other substance) 
  • Financial problem
  • Increased suicidal thoughts. High risk of suicide
  • Avoiding social situations.
  • Agoraphobia (fear of going to places and meeting people).

What Are The Causes Of Panic Attacks?

Though the exact causes of panic attacks & panic disorders are uncertain, the tendency to have panic attacks is genetic. They are also connected with significant life transitions event such as graduating, entering the workplace, getting married, or having a baby. Severe stress, such as the demise of loved ones, divorce, or job loss, can also trigger panic attacks.

  • Family history: Anxiety disorder( panic Attack) often runs in families and comes to you with genes
  • Mental illnesses: people with Anxiety disorders or other mental disorders are more vulnerable than ordinary people.
  • Substance Abuse: addiction to alcohol and drug can increase the chance of panic attack disorder.

Panic attacks may also caused by some medical conditions & physical causes. Suppose you are experiencing the symptoms of panic attacks. In that case, it’s important to consult your healthcare physician to rule out the following possibilities:

  • Mitral valve prolapse, a minor cardiac problem
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland)
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Stimulant use (amphetamines, cocaine, caffeine)
  • Medication withdrawal
  • High level of stress
  • Seasonal affective disorder(a type of disorder that happen only in a particular season).

How Common Is The Panic Attack?

In the US itself, every year, around 11%(3 million) of Americans face panic attack problems. And approximately 2% to 3% of them will develop panic disorder. Anyone can experience a panic attack. This factor plays an important role:

Age: panic attacks mostly first occur during late teenage or early adulthood. But although people of any age, including children, can have panic attacks.
Gender: Women are twice as likely as men to develop panic disorder.

Panic Attacks In Children

Panic attacks are more common in teenagers than in young children. A panic attack often begins during early adulthood. Although in some cases, they may start during childhood. Attacks can lead to severe Anxiety disorder and affect other factors such as mood and lowering brain function.

Some children avoid the situation due to fear of panic attacks. Some children with panic attacks can develop severe depression and may be risk of suicidal behavior. 

If your child has signs and symptoms of panic disorder, then you should consult a doctor as soon as possible. After taking the details of the children according to their condition, they may refer you to a child specialist for further treatment.

Self-Help Tips For Panic Attacks

Despite how ineffective or out of control you may feel. It’s essential to know that there are many things you could do to help yourself. Following are the self-help techniques that can make a big difference to help overcome your panic.

Treatments For Panic Attacks

The most effective way of treating panic attacks, panic disorder, and agoraphobia is therapy. Even a short course of therapy can be effective.

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment/talk therapy that helps people learn how to identify, understand and change negative, destructive, or disturbing thought patterns resulting in a negative influence on their behavior and emotions that disrupt their day-to-day life. 

  • Exposure therapy for panic disorder

Exposure therapy is where the therapist gives you a specific task or tells you to do things you are afraid to do. This type of therapy is much more effective for people suffering from Phobias or Panic disorders.

  • Exposure therapy for panic disorder with agoraphobia

In Agoraphobia treatment with exposure therapy, the primary purpose is to expose yourself to a panic attack. This method doesn’t aim at any crowded place. You need to go there to face the problem and practice improving it so you can defeat your fear.

Medications For Panic Attacks

Medications are helpful in reducing symptoms of panic disorder temporarily. However, it doesn’t treat or resolve the problem. Medicines may be beneficial in severe instances, but they should not be the only treatment to be pursued.

When combined with other treatments like lifestyle changes and therapy, medications may be the most effective treatment that addresses the underlying cause of the panic disorder. Medications may include Antidepressants & Benzodiazepines.

  • SSRIs(Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors): Medication belongs to the antidepressant. Generally, it has a shallow risk of side effects. SSRIs is one most recommended antidepressant medication by doctors to treat panic attacks. It is also approved by the FDA(food & drug administration) for treating panic disorders, including Prozac(fluoxetine), Paxil(paroxetine), and Zoloft(sertraline).
  • Benzodiazepines: most of the time, Benzodiazepines are used for a short period. The FDA approves this medication for treating panic orders, but it is not a good choice for people who are prone to drugs and alcohol. They can also interact with other medicines and may cause serious side effects.

How To Help Someone Who Is Suffering From Panic Attack?

  • Staying calm, sympathetic & non-judgmental will help one’s panic attack diminish quicker.
    Ask them to focus on their breathing - Find a quiet place & ask them to settle down, then guide them to take deep breaths for a few minutes.
  • Do something physical - If you want to release someone’s stress, try this; Together, raise and lower their arms or stamp your feet. The fast-paced movement can help burn off that pent-up tension in an instant.
  • Encourage your loved one to seek help - Reassure your loved one that an attack is a normal and healthy response to intense stress. Try not to embarrass them about having these episodes in front of you, but instead encourage the person with an anxiety disorder to seek help for themselves right away.

Bottom Line From Practical Anxiety Solutions

The reasons for panic attacks are unclear, but it is possible that certain triggers may make you more likely to experience one. You may experience just one panic attack or may have several. However, it is a treatable condition as you can take steps instantly to ease symptoms. With therapy and medications, future panic attacks can also be prevented. It will help you recover and feel calm again in no time at all.

Panic attacks should be diagnosed immediately, and start treatment which can be more effective. Usually, for treating panic disorder, psychotherapy and medication are used. It depends on your condition, preference, and your doctor's suggestion.

The first line of treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy and other therapies with SSRIs(antidepressant medicines). Psychotherapist helps you to overcome the panic disorder within several months.

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