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Author: Dr Muffazal RawalaConsultant Adult Psychiatrist

Panic attacks are truly terrifying.
Those who suffer with panic attacks can become paralysed with fear; an overwhelming set of physical and emotional symptoms are triggered which can leave the individual struggling to breathe or feeling that they are having a heart attack.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is an overwhelming and acute sense of anxiety. They don’t always happen as a result of something happening around you – sometimes a panic attack will happen for, seemingly, no reason. You can be sitting in a meeting, washing up or watching TV and all of a sudden be overwhelmed with a strong sense of panic.

During a panic attack, carrying on with normal tasks, such as driving or having a conversation are almost impossible.

Panic disorder is when these attacks happen more often and you find you are worrying about having another panic attack or it stops you from doing certain things.

5%
Of the adult population will have a panic disorder at some stage


Panic attack symptoms

There are both physical and emotional symptoms of a panic attack, which include:

  • Sense of impending doom or danger
  • Fear of loss of control or death
  • Feeling detached from reality
  • Feeling out of control
  • Rapid, pounding heart rate
  • Sweating, trembling and shaking
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
  • Chills or hot flushes
  • Nausea or stomach cramps
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness, light-headedness or faintness
  • Numbness or tingling sensation

If you experience the following, you may be developing a panic disorder symptoms:

  • Avoiding situations you think may trigger a panic attack
  • Fear and apprehension of a panic attack
  • Unexpected onset of a panic attack
  • Recurring panic attacks over 1 month period

1 in 5 of us will have a panic attack at some stage


The cycle of a panic attack

Panic attacks can start suddenly, often with no warning they are coming or without an obvious external factor triggering the attack.

  • A panic attack lasts, on average, 30 minutes from start to finish.
  • Symptoms peak around 10 minutes into the attack
  • Following the panic attack, the individual often feels exhausted and drained
  • Extreme fear of future panic attacks is very common

Fear of another panic attack

It is very common for those with a panic disorder to develop an immense fear of having another panic attack.

This can make things even worse and this fear of panic attacks often needs to be treated alongside the panic disorder themselves.

The Psychiatrist I saw was very compassionate and really took the time to listen to me. I feel much better now I know what treatment will work.

Kirin, Kent


Treating panic attacks

Talking therapies, such as counselling, psychotherapy and CBT can all be very effective at helping treat anxiety and panic attacks. Working with a therapist, you can gain an understanding of the root causes for the panic attacks as well as learn invaluable coping mechanisms for managing them as and when they come along.

Medications, such as antidepressants can also be useful in helping prevent future panic attacks and lessening the symptoms associated with anxiety.

I see many people who have lived in hope that their anxiety is related to a trigger and with time will go away. After a detailed assessment and commencement of treatment, they are able to recognize how different life is without constant anxiety.
MBBS, MSc, MRCPsych

Consultant Adult Psychiatrist
London

Dr Muffazal Rawala is an experienced NHS Consultant Psychiatrist, currently working for East London NHS Foundation Trust. He has a Medical Degree, a Masters in Transcultural Mental Health, has a postgraduate certificate in Psychopharmacology and is a...

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