What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden attack of anxiety that may occur as part of another anxiety disorder. Panic attacks may happen due to stress or for a reason not known. A panic attack is a period of extreme panic (you may feel frozen in place) that lasts for about five to 30 minutes.

Symptoms of a panic attack include tightening of the throat, pressure in the chest, rapid heart rate (tachycardia), dizziness, sweating, trembling, nausea, tingling or numbness, and hot flashes. You may feel like you are in a dream, like you have no control over your body, or like you are going crazy. Panic attacks happen unexpectedly. Sometimes, panic attacks can be mistaken for heart attacks.

The cause of panic attacks is not known. In some cases, panic attacks and anxiety disorders may be hereditary. They may also be linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Women are more likely than men to have panic attacks. Usually, panic disorders, in which a person has repeated panic attacks, are diagnosed before age 30 (Source: PubMedHealth).

There is no cure for panic attacks, but they can be treated. The goal of treating panic attacks is to lessen their frequency and severity. Patient education is an essential component to any treatment strategy. Usually, treatment includes psychotherapy and medication. Medications may include antidepressants and anticonvulsants (seizure medications). It is also important to get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly to lessen your likelihood of having a panic attack.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as sweating, severe difficulty breathing, and chest pain or pressure, which may be combined with pale or blue lips, fast heart rate, and anxiety. While these are symptoms of a panic attack, they may also be symptoms of a heart attack.

Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for an anxiety disorder and are experiencing panic attacks.


What are the symptoms of a panic attack?

Symptoms of a panic attack include sudden, intense feelings of panic. Panic attacks may last anywhere from five to30 minutes. It may take up to an hour to recover from a panic attack.

Common symptoms of a panic attack

You may experience panic attack symptoms daily or just once in a while. At times any of these panic attack symptoms can be severe:


What causes panic attacks?

The underlying cause of panic attacks is not known. They can occur randomly, or can be triggered by situations or things that make you anxious. In some cases, it is thought that panic attacks and anxiety disorders are hereditary. In other cases, they may be related to a brain injury or infection.

Anxiety disorders are thought to be related to chemical imbalances in the brain. When... Read more about panic attackcauses


How are panic attacks treated?

Panic attacks are usually treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. While there is no cure for panic attacks, these treatments are usually effective at managing symptoms, allowing you to lead a normal, healthy life.

Medications for panic attacks

Medications for panic attacks may include antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and antianxiety medication... Read more about panic attacktreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 20, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Mental Health and Behavior