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Panic Attack Definition, Triggers and Treatment

By October 7, 2018 No Comments
Panic Attack Definition And Triggers
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Many of us are familiar with the phrase “panic attack.” At the same time, many of us are not entirely sure what they are and what causes them. In the event you’re dealing with a panic-related issue, the good news is you’re certainly not alone. Panic attacks are probably much more common than people realize.

It isn’t unusual for individuals to suffer a one-time panic attack as a result of stress or a stressful situation. Additionally, over two million Americans between 18 and 54 experience some type of panic disorder each year. This means that they suffer from panic attacks on a regular basis. Read on to learn more about these attacks, panic disorder, and what causes each.

What Is a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks are sudden, intense feelings of fear and anxiety. They can occur at any time, even when a person is otherwise feeling relaxed. They tend to last between 10 and 20 minutes, but the effects can linger for several hours. While panic attacks can be very uncomfortable and lead to emotional complications if they resurface frequently, typically they aren’t physically dangerous.

The actual physical effects of a panic attack differ from person to person and even from case to case. Symptoms that people commonly experience include chest pain and shortness of breath. These symptoms can easily be mistaken for those of a heart attack, especially if the person is suffering a panic attack for the first time. Other physical symptoms include faintness, nausea, hot flashes, lightheadedness, and dizziness.

Panic Attacks versus Panic Disorder

Panic attacks are a sudden feeling of intense and disabling stress or anxiety. They tend to last anywhere between ten minutes and several hours. A single panic attack isn’t dangerous, even if it seems scary at the time. But, what about frequently recurring panic attacks? Could they be a sign of a bigger problem? Keep reading to find out.

Panic Attacks

The physical symptoms of a panic attack are caused by a response from the body’s sympathetic nervous system. These symptoms are most commonly chest pain, shortness of breath, hot flashes, and dizziness – among others. They are often mistaken for a heart attack by the sufferer, especially if that person is experiencing their first episode.

During a panic attack, the individual may feel as though he or she is losing control. The person may also feel a sense of impending doom or begin to feel detached either from themselves or from reality as a whole.

While panic attacks are sometimes very severe, they tend to peak at around 10 to 20 minutes, with many of the symptoms fading within the hour. Oftentimes, the reason for the panic attackís occurrence is†unclear even to the sufferer. Panic attacks such as this may be a one-time thing or something that happens on very rare occasions. But, recurring cases of panic attacks could point to the sufferer having a panic disorder.

Panic Disorders

People suffering from panic disorders have frequent panic attacks. Unlike an occasional acute panic attack, these even more pronounced attacks are often tied to situations that have caused trouble before. The simple fear of having another panic attack in an uncomfortable recurring situation can cause enough anxiety to trigger a panic disorder. Think of it as a vicious circle of sorts. It’s a circle that causes many people to totally avoid previous situations they’ve been in if they have caused a series of attacks.

While the exact cause of panic disorders is unknown, they are still treatable. Most often, they are treated through therapy or with the aid of self-help strategies. These therapy sessions are typically enough to mitigate the problem, but medication may also be used in some circumstances.

Not only that but learning a bit more about what you’re feeling during a panic attack can help you to feel more relaxed while they occur. Reading a book on anxiety or panic attacks can really help. However, the best course of action is generally to talk to your doctor or a mental health care professional. He or she is always the best choice to help put you on a path to recovery.

Having a single panic attack isnít a sign of a panic disorder. In fact, it’s typically far from it. On the other hand, an untreated panic disorder can lead to a much larger number of unhealthy panic attacks and possibly even further complications down the line.

Please remember, if you feel like you are suffering from some type of panic disorder, seek help before the issue really starts to have a negative impact on your life.

What Causes Panic Attacks?

While there are a number of factors that can contribute to a panic attack, the exact causes are unknown. Panic attacks can sometimes be caused by major changes or stressful situations in life, such as a new job or the loss of a family member.

Certain people with phobias also experience panic attacks when they are exposed to whatever it is they are phobic too. Having a panic attack in a certain situation can also lead a person to think that that situation has the potential to bring on another attack. These cases are known as situationally-bound panic attacks.

Other factors can be more long-term and lead to the person being more prone to future panic attacks. People who experience psychological conditions such as anxiety disorders tend to experience panic attacks as well.
These long-term, recurring cases are known as panic disorder. Panic disorders can affect anyone, but typically they affect young adults and they tend to occur more frequently in women than in men. They are usually treated through either psychological therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

Panic attacks can be confusing and scary, especially while they are occurring. But, knowing a bit about them is the first step to helping yourself to get through them. Other things that you can do are to work on breathing techniques and cut down on caffeine and smoking.

Here’s one last tip. Hyperventilating can make many of the symptoms of a panic attack worse, while controlled, deep breathing can help to relieve the symptoms.

What Should You Do for Someone Who Is Having a Panic Attack?

When someone experiences a panic attack, it’s usually scarier for that person to go through it alone. One exception to this might be if that same individual is panicking because he or she has difficulty being around people.

If that isn’t the case and you’re with someone who is requesting assistance, there are numerous things you can do to help. These are just a few of them.

1. Keep Them Calm

Having a panic attack can be a very scary and confusing experience. One of the best things you can do for someone who is suffering from one of them is to help the individual stay calm. Come up with a simple activity you can do with them. This gives him or her something to focus on.

It can be something as easy as lifting your arms or counting to ten. If possible, find something that’s a bit more challenging for them to do. The sense of accomplishment they feel when they finish the task should help to make them feel more in control.

2. Get the Person to a Quiet Place

Getting over a panic attack is all about calming down, which can be hard to do in a noisy or chaotic location. Try to encourage the person to move to a calm and quiet place, if they are willing to do so. Consider asking if there is a certain place they’d like to relocate to and help them get there if possible. However, donít be too forceful about it. Doing so might potentially make the situation worse.

3. Help Them Breathe

People who are having a panic attack tend to hyperventilate, especially if it’s the first time they are experiencing the sensation. Shallow, rapid breaths cause the amount of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream to fall. This can lead to symptoms such as a headache, weakness, dizziness, or tingling in the hands and feet.

When people experience these symptoms, they often feel like they aren’t getting enough air, which causes them to hyperventilate even more. Encourage the panic attack sufferer to take slow, deep breaths by doing so yourself. Inhale slowly, count to three, then exhale slowly and repeat. Chances are good that this will have a positive effect.

4. Stay with the Individual

When someone is having a panic attack, they may feel like they want to be alone. But, the best thing that you can do for them is to stay with them and keep them calm. Remind them that you are there to help them. They may say things to you that are rude or aggressive, but try to keep in mind that they’re very upset and don’t mean everything that they say.

5. Take Care of Yourself

If the person you’re trying to calm down sees that you start to panic, it can make things even worse. It’s perfectly normal to feel stressed out or have an elevated concern for your friend during this situation. But, you need to make sure that you stay calm and in control. Quite honestly, it’s the best way to help.

Of course, these aren’t the only methods to help someone who is having a panic attack. Everyone responds to different things. If the first thing doesn’t work, try something else. The most important thing to do is to try.

Marilyn Foster

Marilyn Foster

Marilyn Foster is a health editor and has worked on the academic and clinical side of integrative medicine for many years. Originally from Sedona, Arizona, she has a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University.

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