What is a Panic Attack?: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Panic Attack: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Panic Attack Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

A Panic attack is a situation where the patient feels intense fear or discomfort and it often triggers within minutes.

During the episode of a panic attack, a variety of physical and psychological reactions occur. It is quite frightening as a person undergoing this situation might feel like having a heart attack or losing control of mind and body. Panic attacks do not affect every person the same way. Several persons experience this only once or twice in their lifetime, while many others go through recurrent anxiety periods. This condition is called panic disorder.

Although these periods are not life-threatening, the person experiencing this might feel like dying. It has several physical as well as psychological symptoms such as,

Physical Symptoms

  • Sped up heartbeats
  • Sweating
  • Shaking or shivering
  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Choking
  • Tingling sensations
  • Abdominal pain

Psychological Symptoms

Panic attacks can happen anytime, during the day or night, too. Regular panic attacks tend to trigger at certain places and in certain situations. Specific events can cause nervousness in the human brain as well as the body which may result in a worse condition.

Most panic attacks last no longer than 20 minutes. However, the duration of this period varies between individuals. Sometimes it can last for more than an hour, but it’s a rare condition. They start suddenly and reach a peak within 10 minutes or less.

The study says people with periodic panic attacks or panic disorder are at higher risk of heart attacks or other heart diseases. Although it has major health risks, no one can die due to panic attacks. Still, we cannot ignore the fact that they are very intense and uncomfortable, and hard to manage. It is always advised to seek medical help as soon as the person starts experiencing the symptoms. While these symptoms are often mistaken with heart attacks, the patient should consult primary help in case of confusion.

There are many causes of panic attack, usually, people with a negative mindset and emotions are more likely to experience this situation.
Image by Dmitry Abramov from Pixabay

What Causes Panic Attack?

Usually, people with a negative mindset and emotions are more likely to experience this situation. People with bad childhood experiences like physical or sexual abuse, stressful education period are also at risks. People may inherit these symptoms from their biological parents or grandparents, too. Hence, the most common causes are:

  • Genetics
  • Never-ending Stress
  • Sensitivity
  • Changes in the brain’s functioning

However, it depends on how your body and brain react to certain situations. For some people, situations like facing an interview can be terrific, while for some other people, it can be as simple as talking and sharing views among others.


  • Major changes in life
  • Family history of having such attacks
  • Excessive smoking
  • Excessive caffeine intake
  • Traumatic events
  • Life stress


Panic attacks last for around 20-30 minutes, and many people easily ignore them after the anxiety period is over. Left untreated, these attacks can cause severe effects in your life. They include,

  • It can cause specific phobia such as fear of swimming or even taking a shower
  • It can create serious problems at the workplace or school
  • The patient may require frequent medical care
  • The patient may experience other resultant health conditions
  • Financial problems may occur due to constant medical treatments
  • The patient may develop the tendency to avoid social gatherings
  • They may fall into depression or other psychiatric disorders
  • The risk of suicidal thoughts and even suicide may increase
  • The patient may start to have habits that can damage their health

How to stop a Panic Attack?

Prevention or Treatment for Panic Attack

The panic attack is an experience that can wear out the person, but there are several techniques that can help in preventing them.

1.      Make a plan and keep it handy

Making a plan of what to follow during the anxiety period is important. This plan can be a set of certain instruction such as get out of the current place as soon as you start to feel the symptoms, call for help, and calm down until you get help.

2.      Deep breathing

While facing a panic attack, the patient may experience shortness of breath. This situation is quite uncomfortable and terrific. However, this is temporary. Hence, the patient should tell themselves that everything is going to be fine, it will be over. Practicing deep breathing helps a lot while the patient is already feeling shortness of breath. Inhaling enough oxygen relaxes the brain and heart. Thus, helps the patient become controlled and steady.

3.      Focus on something

This comes as a very handy technique during this period. The patient can pick an object and start focusing on noticing every single detail about it. Focusing helps to divert the mind from the current condition. This definitely helps in moving ahead from the fear.

4.      Practice relaxation methods

At the time of a panic attack, it is common to feel like losing control of the body. According to several panic disorder therapists, relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) are effective and assist in gaining the control back. To start PMR, first, get comfortable and, sit on a chair or somewhere else comfortably, and close the eyes. Then start breathing deeply. Use the nose to inhale the oxygen and let the abdomen rise while doing so. Then, slowly exhale from the mouth. Repeat three to four times. After breathing practice, start tightening and then releasing muscles of feet. Clench toes and press towards the ground. Inhale and stop for a few breaths and release. Point the toes towards the head, hold for five to six seconds and then release. This way, tighten and release each muscle of the body. Keep repeating on the areas that feel the need.

The panic attacks damage the body in one or other ways. They must be treated before they start ruining a life. Psychotherapy and medication can help in reducing the frequency and intensity of the panic attacks. Medications are extremely helpful in case of frequent panic conditions. It helps to manage symptoms such as depression, over-anxiety, and fear. Psychotherapy is equally effective. It involves relaxation training, reframing of thought, structuring behavior, and stress reduction. This therapy is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). These treatments can help most of the times. However, there are chances of these symptoms coming back if the treatments are not carried out properly.

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Debby Clarke

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