A Panic Attack is a sudden overwhelming feeling of acute and disabling anxiety. Intense fear triggers severe physical and cognitive reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. The reactions can be feeling like you will die, pain or pressure in your chest, shortness of breath, trembling, heart palpitations, and dizziness.
A panic attack can happen anywhere, at any time. You may feel terrified and overwhelmed, even though you’re not in any danger. An episode usually passes in 5-10 minutes, but it can linger for hours. It can feel like you’re having a heart attack or a stroke. So people with panic attacks often wind up in the emergency room for evaluation.
If this kind of random event has happened to you at least twice, and you always worry and change your routine to keep from having one, you might have a panic disorder; a type of anxiety disorder. If left untreated, panic disorder can sometimes lead to agoraphobia, an intense fear of being outside or in enclosed spaces.
This disorder reflects the experience of sudden panic symptoms (generally out of the blue, without specific triggers) in combination with persistent, lingering worry that panic symptoms will return and fear of those panic symptoms.
Repeated panic attacks characterise Panic Disorder.
Is there a difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack?
Anxiety is a mental health condition that can cause feelings of worry, fear, or tension.
With an anxiety attack, a person may feel fearful, apprehensive, feel his/her heart racing, or feel short of breath. It’s usually temporary, and when the stressor goes away, so it makes the anxiety attack.
A panic attack mostly doesn’t come in reaction to a stressor. It’s unprovoked and unpredictable, although some people may experience extreme symptoms like chest pain from stress.
Both panic and anxiety can involve fear, a pounding or racing heart, lightheadedness, chest pain, difficulty breathing, and irrational thoughts. However, in a panic attack, these are far more severe. Panic attack symptoms usually peak within ten minutes and typically last about half an hour.
Recurrent expected or unexpected panic attacks AND one or more of the following symptoms for at least one month:
- Pounding heart
- Feeling of weakness
- Tingling or numbness in hands
- Feeling flushed
- Sense of unreality
- The feeling of loss of control or losing one’s mind
- Fear of dying or something physically wrong (e.g., heart attack, stroke)
- Persistent concern about the consequences of the attacks (e.g. “going crazy”, heart attack) or fears of having additional attacks
- A significant change in behaviour related to attacks (e.g. avoiding exercise)
- Duration of panic attacks: a few minutes to 10 minutes (rarely last longer than 1 hour)
These symptoms mustn’t be better accounted for by another disorder (e.g. panic attacks only in social settings). The signs also cannot be caused by substances, medications, or medical illnesses.
It’s not known what causes panic attacks or panic disorder, but these factors may play a role:
- Major stress
- A temperament that is more sensitive to pressure or prone to negative emotions
- Certain changes in the way parts of your brain function
Panic attacks may come on suddenly and without warning at first, but certain situations usually trigger them over time.