Panic attack is a sudden and intense surge of fear or anxiety in a short period of time. It usually peaks within ten minutes but symptoms can last much longer. In addition to the fear or anxiety that is experienced, people may also have other symptoms as listed below:
- Feeling like you can’t breathe.
- Chest pressure or chest pain.
- Pounding heart.
- Racing pulse.
- Dizziness or light-headedness.
- Tightness in the throat.
- Trembling or shaking.
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet.
- Hot flushes or chills.
- Sense of unreality or dreamlike sensations.
- Extreme fear of losing control, doing something embarrassing, going ‘crazy’ or dying.
People having panic attacks sometimes believe they are having heart attacks, losing their minds, or on the verge of death. They sometimes can’t predict when or where an attack will occur, and between episodes many worry intensely and dread the next attack. When people have repeated panic attacks, or become very fearful of having further panic attacks, this is called Panic Disorder.
People who have full-blown, repeated panic attacks can become very disabled as they start to avoid places or situations where panic attacks have occurred. For example, if a panic attack happened while driving they may develop a fear of driving and avoid it completely.
Some people become housebound or are able to confront a feared situation only when accompanied by a spouse or other trusted person. When the condition progresses this far, it is called agoraphobia. Treatment is available and relatively simple measures can make a huge difference quite quickly.
“I started to get really panicky whenever I was left alone with the baby. One day when he cried I completely lost it, my heart went mad, and I went all shaky and couldn’t breath properly… it didn’t last long but then I dreaded it happening again.”