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Panic Attacks

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Ever felt the your mouth turn dry, heart thump so loudly the person next to you could hear it, your legs freeze in place- refuse to move even if you want to. Your body trembles and perspiration starts trickling down your forehead. Breathing suddenly becomes a task and each muscle in the body gets tensed up. All this for a brief moment or a couple of hours. Well, have just expirenced a panic attacks. More information on panic attacks is covered in the paragraphs below.

What are Panic Attacks?

The sudden period of anxiety and fear that occurs for no apparent reason is called as panic attack. This is a very common disorder that affects more than 3.5% of the population. People suffering from panic attacks experience unexpected and repeated episodes of extreme fear and anxiety.

It is very frightening to suffer from panic attacks. These episodes make one feel as if they are losing control or about to die. They will develop flashing vision, numbness in body, hyperventilation, etc. If one experiences repeated attacks of constant, intense fear, it means they suffer from panic disorder.


According to the DSM-5 criteria for panic attacks, at last four or more symptoms should be experienced by a person abruptly and reach a peak within minutes. Only then it will be considered as a full blown panic attack. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitation
  • Chest pain
  • Hot flashes
  • Burning sensation
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness
  • Hyperventilation
  • Paresthesias
  • Feeling of beign choked or smothered
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Uncontrollable crying or screaming
  • Headache


Panic attacks can run in families. If one has a family history of anxiety disorders or depression, chances are the genetic factor can lead to panic attacks. In some cases, negative experiences in life like childhood abuse, sexual abuse, loss of loved one, etc. can lead to panic attacks. At times changes in the brain function can trigger an episode.

The autonomic nervous system triggers a ‘flight-or-fight’ response in case of danger. This happens when hormones like adrenaline flood the body. When this ‘flight-or-fight’ response is triggered for no apparent reason in a harmless, stress-free situation, it causes panic attacks.


Panic attacks can occur anywhere at anytime, even in sleep. Some people develop fear of going to places where they develop these attacks. In few, it turns to agarophobia. In order to determine if one has panic attacks, the doctor will conduct a complete physical examination. Blood tests to check for thyroid and other conditions. An ECG will be conducted to check for heart conditions.

The doctor will then assess you psychologically and determine panic attack under the criteria given in DSM.


The treatment for panic attacks aims to remove all the symptoms of panic attack. Psychotherapy or behavior therapy is the first line of treatment for panic attack. In this, the therapist will talk to you and help you understand that the sensations of panic are no longer threathening in any way.

Medications will be prescribed to keep the symptoms of panic attacks under control. These medications include Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), Benzodiazepines and Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

Living in fear for no apparent reason is not easy. You feel terrified, afraid that you are going to die. It feels as if you are losing your mind and are terrified to leave your house. If you experience such intense episodes of fear, talk to a doctor today. With a few months of medicine and therapy, you will feel your normal self again. Fight back the fear that traps you in your house with medical help.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 29, 2015