More than four million people experience panic attacks annually, across the country. These attacks can occur anytime and anywhere: on the drive home from work, in the movie theater, at a child’s little league game, or in a thousand other unexpected places. While many people have heard of panic attacks, most may not be aware of the specifics of this frightening anxiety concern.
A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that develops for no apparent reason. These attacks can trigger severe physical reactions and generally make the sufferer feel as if they are losing control or possibly having a heart attack. In the extreme, panic attacks can make a person feel like they may be dying. These attacks often begin without warning and can happen at any time or place. Most symptoms peak within ten minutes and last for approximately half an hour.
Symptoms of panic attack may include:
- A sense of impending doom or death
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Hot flashes
- Abdominal cramping
- Chest pain
- Trouble swallowing
- Tightness in the throat
You may notice that these symptoms are similar to serious medical conditions, such as a heart attack. Because of this, it is very important to seek the help of a physician if any of the above physical reactions are experienced. Beyond these symptoms, however, one of the worst aspects of a panic attack is that it often triggers fear that another attack is imminent. This fear can take over a person’s life. Over time a panic disorder may develop if a person has four or more attacks or lives in constant fear that more will occur.
Once a panic disorder develops, seeking panic disorder therapy becomes even more important: left untreated, panic attacks can lead to severe phobias or other anxiety disorders, to avoidance of social situations, to suicidal thoughts or actions, to financial problems, to work or school problems, and/or to alcohol or substance abuse problems. Because panic disorders do not go away on their own, experts encourage people to seek therapy as soon as they realize they are altering their day-to-day lives in order to cope. Most sufferers will undergo cognitive behavior therapy or exposure therapy as part of their panic disorder therapy. These treatments may be combined with medication depending on the specifics of each case.