Panic attacks, sometimes called anxiety attacks, are characterized by sudden and extreme onset of emotional and physical anxiety symptoms. Though it’s normal to panic at stressful times, a panic attack differs from these reactions. Anxiety attacks happen when the mind and body react in an extreme way to a situation not inherently dangerous or threatening. If you’re suffering from panic attack symptoms, don’t fear. Anxiety attacks may be managed and treated successfully.
What Causes a Panic Attack?
People will often experience panic attack symptoms in stressful times, such as after a job loss or divorce, or the death of a loved one. In the moment, however, anxiety attacks often have no precipitating agents, and are caused by benign and seemingly non-threatening activities. Panic attacks are thought to be an abnormal function of the body’s physical response to emergency situations, and may be influenced by genetics or environmental stress.
Panic attacks can occur once or twice during a lifetime, or more regularly. Recurring panic attack symptoms may indicate panic disorder, a chronic condition that can disrupt everyday life.
Common Panic Attack Symptoms
Panic attack symptoms come on suddenly and can be quite frightening. Anxiety attacks usually present with both emotional and strong physical symptoms, which are the body’s physiological response to a perceived threat. Common panic attack symptoms include:
- Extreme anxiety and desire to escape
- Feeling out of control
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach upset
These symptoms are usually extreme, but they pass within a few minutes. However, many anxiety attack symptoms can also represent a serious medical condition, including a heart attack or allergic reaction. If you experience these symptoms for the first time without warning, especially if they last longer than a few minutes, dial 911. Don’t assume they are due to a panic attack until a doctor or mental health professional provides a diagnosis.
Panic Attacks: Treatment and Management
Panic attacks can be very disruptive to everyday activities. Recurring anxiety attacks, and constant fear or anxiety that another panic attack will occur, may also point to panic disorder. For recurring panic attacks, treatment may help you to manage your symptoms.
If you suffer from panic attacks, treatment will usually include psychotherapy. This type of therapy can help you to cognitively and emotionally deal with your symptoms. You may learn to slow or avoid a panic attack by recognizing early signs. You’ll learn relaxation techniques helpful in combating initial symptoms. Medications can also change your body’s physical stress response, eventually allowing you to avoid panic attacks.