Panic Attack

Panic Attack: symptoms, causes, and diagnosis


A panic attack is a frequent episode of acute anxiety that causes severe physical reactions of fear and danger. Panic attacks may be scary; when it occurs, a person may think he is undergoing a heart attack, losing control, or dying. Mostly, these lasted for 5-20 minutes approximately. However, the emotional and physical consequences of the attack can last for some hours. Panic attacks have been referred to as anxiety attacks. 

Symptoms of Panic Attack

Panic attacks may occur suddenly. They may strike a person at any condition. For example, when a person is falling asleep, in the shopping mall, or driving a car. The signs and symptoms of a panic attack are as follows;

  • Sweating
  • Rapid or speedy heart rate
  • Irritational thinking
  • Nausea or stomach pain
  • Hot flashes
  • Chills
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Fear of death or losing control
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness, faintness, or dizziness
  • The feeling of detachment or unreality
  • Sense of danger or dread
  • Breathing difficulties or tightness in a person’s throat
  • Tingling or numbing sensation 
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Dizziness or weakness 
  • Dry mouth
  • Tense muscles 

Causes of a Panic Attack

Following are the different conditions that cause panic attacks;

  • Major stress, like severe illness or death of a loved ones
  • Genetics
  • Changes in the brain function
  • A person’s body fight or flight reaction to danger

Risk factors of Panic Attack

These are the factors that enhance the possible risk of panic attacks, which may include;

  • Family history of panic disorder and panic attacks
  • A traumatic event, like a severe accident 
  • Excess caffeine intake
  • Smoking
  • A greater change in a person’s life, such as divorce 
  • The history of a childhood sexual or physical abuse


The panic attack can cause the following complications; 

  • Agoraphobias: It is an anxiety disorder, and about two-thirds of patients with panic attacks have agoraphobia. In this condition, fear may become so high that a patient is too scared to leave his home. 
  • Anticipatory anxiety: Panic attacks may trigger utmost concern or anxiety.
  • Phobias: It is the unreasonable and extreme fear of a specific thing, such as claustrophobia is the irritational or excessive fear of surrounding spaces, and acrophobia is the intense fear or anxiety of heights. 


Panic attacks are acutely uncomfortable and frightening. It becomes challenging for a person to control panic attacks on his own because they can get severe without treatment. If a person experiences these attacks, he should seek medical assistance immediately. The diagnosis usually begins with the patient’s medical history and disease symptoms. The psychologist evaluates the symptoms and performs a physical examination. He further recommends some diagnostic tests, such as blood tests and electrocardiograms (ECG). Moreover, he discusses with a person about his fears, stressful condition, family history, relationship issues, and other symptoms. 

Treatment of Panic Attacks 

Treatment may decrease the frequency and intensity of panic attacks and improve his performance in daily activities. The treatment depends upon a patient’s history (either medical or family) and severity of his symptoms. Generally, panic attacks are treated by medications and psychotherapy, and both may take time to work. Likewise, a healthy lifestyle may assist in combating panic attacks. 

  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy is referred to as ‘talk therapy. It has many forms that are considered effective treatments for panic attacks or panic disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) controls panic disorder and anxiety. It helps change a person’s negative thinking or behavior and manage unhealthy behaviors. The therapist used different exercises and activities to assist the person in replacing his negative thoughts with healthy behavior. Exposure therapy is a CBT method that helps people engage in usual activities. Writing exercises are vital in enhancing awareness and replacing faulty thoughts, such as journal writing, maintaining a gratitude journal, and keeping a panic diary. Furthermore, relaxation therapies such as yoga, deep breathing exercises, and meditation help people diminish tension, regulate fears and modulate heart rates. 
  • Medications: The psychologist prescribed medicines for the treatment of panic attacks, such as;
    • Beta-blockers: These medications help lessen the symptoms of panic attacks, including sweating, tremors, and a fast heart rate. Beta-blockers include serotonin, propanolol, and buspirone to treat anxiety. The side effects of this medicine are blurred vision, tiredness, swelling in the skin, and dizziness.
    • Anti-depressants: Anti-depressants assist in reducing anxiety and decreasing the intensity and frequency of panic attacks. For example, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are commonly prescribed anti-depressants. The SSRIs are fluoxetine, sertraline, citalopram, and paroxetine, and SNRIs are venlafaxine and duloxetine. In addition, SNRIs and SSRIs can cause nausea, sleeping difficulties, or headaches. 
  • Anti-anxiety medicines: These medicines are used to reduce the sensation of depression and anxiety rapidly. Benzodiazepines are the most commonly used anti-anxiety medicines. 


The psychologist recommends a healthy lifestyle to treat the signs and symptoms, thereby reducing the risk factors for panic attacks. The preventive measures for panic disorder are as follows:

  • Take a nutritious diet
  • Daily exercise, such as aerobics, yoga, or deep breathing to regulate stress, boosts confidence and improves a person’s mood
  • Physical activity, such as walk
  • Take sufficient sleep
  • Communicate with family members or friends
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid alcohol, recreational drugs, and caffeine.


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