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A Comprehensive Guide to Panic Attacks / Panic Disorder & How to Avoid Them?


A Comprehensive Guide to Panic Attacks / Panic Disorder & How to Avoid Them?


What is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack, or panic disorder, is a sudden overwhelming feeling of fear that triggers a strong physical response to otherwise non-threatening, normal situations. The symptoms of that of a panic attack are quite similar to a heart attack like profuse sweating, difficulty breathing, and pacing heartbeat. It is the body’s physical and emotional response even when there is no apparent real danger or cause for worrying.

When a panic attack happens, it may feel like you’re losing control of your body and emotions and feel like you’re dying. Feeling sad is different from panic attacks and generally happens before the panic attack occurs.

While it is common for everyone to have one or two episodes of panic attacks in their lifetime, if a person continues feeling sad or stays in a constant state of fear even after the stressful situation ends, it’s time for them to seek a psychologist’s opinion. Though panic attacks aren’t really life-threatening situations, they can significantly alter one’s quality of life.


Panic Attack Symptoms

Panic attacks may affect anyone from early adult years to older generations and often occur suddenly, without warning. Once a panic attack starts, there’s practically no way to stop it. However, it automatically dies down after some time and the symptoms disappear soon after. If you’re unsure what panic attack symptoms are, here are some apparent signs:

  • Chest pain or feeling of tightness
  • Sweating & chills
  • Choking feeling, feels like you’re being smothered
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Fear or feeling of loss of control
  • Feeling of dying
  • Impending feelings of fear or sadness
  • Nausea
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Shaking or trembling hands and fingers
  • Numbness or tingling sensation in fingers or toes


What Brings Panic Attacks?

Doctors and medical experts are still unsure of why panic attacks happen or what brings them. Panic disorder is controlled by your brain and central nervous system that affects your response to the triggers or how you react to fear and anxiety. However, your risk of having panic attacks or developing the panic disorder increases because of the following factors:

  • Family History – Panic disorder, much like anxiety and depression, often runs through generations. If anyone in your family has had such issues, you’re highly likely to suffer from one.
  • Existing Mental Health Issues – People who are already suffering from existing mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, and more are at a higher risk of having panic attacks. Any stressful events in the past or traumatic incidents can also lead to bouts of panic attacks.
  • Substance Abuse – Moderate to excessive consumption of alcohol, drugs, and other intoxicating substances often ends up increasing your risk for panic attacks. Excessive caffeine intake can also be a reason behind panic attacks.
  • Major Life Stress – Sudden death or serious illness of a loved one may bring panic attacks in some cases.
  • Major Life Events – Panic attacks may also be caused due to major life changes like divorce, separation from a partner, the arrival of a baby, and more.
  • History of Abuse – If one has suffered sexual or physical abuse in childhood or in the past, they are more likely to have panic attacks.


How are Panic Attacks Diagnosed & Treated?

Panic symptoms, in some cases, mirror those of thyroid, heart disease, and respiratory issues. Your doctor may run a few tests to ascertain the physical cause of the symptoms. If the tests are clear or inconclusive, your doctor may make a diagnosis based on your current symptoms and risk factors. Panic attacks can be a one-off situation but it develops into a panic disorder if the patient suffers repeated such panic attack episodes.

Psychotherapy or medications or both are effective mediums for controlling and stopping panic attacks. However, the longevity of the treatment and the kind of treatment modality to be adopted depends on the severity of the symptoms and your response to the treatment. treatment options to control panic attacks include:

  • Psychotherapy – This involves Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), also called talk therapy, where a licensed psychological counsellor listens to your thoughts and emotions. Such specialists are experts at identifying your triggers and helping you change your behavioural response to control panic attacks.
  • Antidepressants – Your psychologist may prescribe certain antidepressants to help your panic attacks be less severe and frequent.
  • Anti-anxiety Medications – Your doctor may also prescribe anti-anxiety medications to treat and prevent panic attacks. Though these medicines help significantly with controlling anxiety and panic attacks, they have a greater risk of dependence.


How to Prevent Panic Attacks?

A psychologist or counsellor helps you identify the definite triggers that bring anxiety and panic attacks. During the course of psychotherapy sessions, you will learn how to effectively manage such triggers, and events, and eventually, learn to prevent a panic attack. Besides therapy and medications, you can also resort to the following measures to prevent the possibility of a panic attack:

  • Cut down on your daily intake of caffeine like tea and coffee. Switch to healthy beverages like water, coconut water, fresh fruit juices, and more.
  • Stay active and avoid setting into a sedentary lifestyle. Exercise regularly for about 30-45 minutes a day and 150 minutes a week to stay on top of your fitness game.
  • Make sure your diet has an optimal balance of all essential nutrients and vitamins that help control panic triggers. Cutting down on processed and junk food immensely benefits controlling panic disorder.
  • Meditate or engage in other de-stressing techniques to reduce your stress levels.
  • Consult your doctor before self-medicating with over-the-counter herbal supplements for controlling panic attacks. Some such supplements may actually increase anxiety levels making the situation even worse.


Call your doctor right away if anxiety and panic attacks start interfering with your everyday quality of life or if your panic attack symptoms last longer than 15 minutes. Panic attacks can take a toll on your mental and physical health. However, you can get better with therapies and treatments from an expert healthcare provider.

Medanta Medical Team
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