What are panic attacks?

Imagine that you are walking in a dark alley, and all of the sudden, a robber puts a gun to your head and demands all of your money.

Your heart would probably pick up speed. You would probably start sweating or hyperventilating. And you, very well, may be afraid for your life.

Now imagine getting all of these physical effects — but while sitting at work, sitting on your couch, in the library or even in the middle of sleeping. All of the sudden, without warning, you feel (usually four or more of the following symptoms): a sense of impending danger, your heart picks up speed, you begin sweating and trembling, you become short of breath, you start hyperventilating, you get chills, you feel like you are going to throw up, your stomach cramps up,  your chest hurts, you have trouble swallowing and you feel like you are going to pass out.

Sure, in a time of fear or intense sadness, these physical symptoms make sense.  But when they come up for no apparent reason, it's scary. Very scary.

WebMD says that panic attacks are generally brief, lasting less than 10 minutes, although some of the symptoms may persist for a longer time. And when the attacks occur repeatedly, a person is considered to have a condition known as a panic disorder — which is not rare and affects about 2.4 million people in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 54.

Often the first attacks are triggered by a major life stress.

Because of the physical symptoms, many people experience a panic attack think they are having a heart attack. Medicine Net reports that, actually, 25 percent of people who visit emergency rooms because of chest pain are actually experiencing a panic attack.

This is why, if you have panic attacks, it is important to get checked out medically to make sure there is nothing wrong with your heart.

Medically, there are several treatments and forms of psychotherapy for those suffering from panic disorder. Examples, according to Medicine Net, are sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), and citalopram (Celexa) from the SSRI group, duloxetine (Cymbalta) and venlafaxine (Effexor) from the SSNRI group, and clonazepam (Klonopin) and lorazepam (Ativan) from the benzodiazepine group.

And psychotherapy can decrease irrational thoughts and behaviors the reinforce panic symptoms.

If you are trying to naturally reduce your number of panic attacks, keep in mind that substances such as caffeine and alcohol can worsen panic attacks. Exercise, deep breathing, massage therapy and yoga can also help reduce panic attacks (I personally would enjoy getting massages and having the excuse that it was doctor-prescribed).

To me, panic attacks prove that depression and anxiety are medical disorders. To me, this proves that, just like cancer, it's something you can't control. And something that needs to be treated.

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  2. By reducing the rate at which serotonin is reabsorbed, Celexa changes a person's brain chemistry, improving mood and reducing feelings of anxiety. sarahL