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Panic Attack Resources

What is a Panic Attack? Panic attacks are commonly defined as follows;
The sudden onset of intense anxiety, characterized by feelings of intense fear and apprehension and accompanied by palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating, and trembling.

What scares many during an attack is that the person seems to be thinking irrational thoughts, yet their thought process is rational. Many experience the Fight or Flight response in a situation that does not call for it. Adrenaline kicks in, your eyes get sharper hearing becomes heightened and everything around you may seem like its made of plastic. For many after the first attack more will follow which may lead to Panic Disorder and or the development of phobias.

What is Panic Disorder? The Disorder is usually defined as;
At least one panic attack has been followed by 1 month (or more) of one (or more) of the following:

  • Persistent concern about having additional attacks
  • Worry about the implications of the attack or its consequences (e.g., losing control, having a heart attack, "going crazy")
  • Significant change in behavior related to the attacks
What are the Common Symptoms of Panic Attacks?
  • Racing heartbeat, palpitations, or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling of choking and dry mouth
  • Chest pain, pressure or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying
  • numbness or tingling sensations
  • Feeling of partial paralysis of legs or arms
  • Chills and hot flushes

What Causes Panic Attacks? Panic disorder has been demonstrated to run in families, many people interpret this to mean that inheritance (genetics) plays a strong role in determining who will get it. However, many people who have no family history of the disorder develop it.Heredity, other biological factors, stressful life events, and chemical imbalances are all believed to play a role in the onset of panic disorder.

It is estimated that 1.6 percent of the population in the US has panic disorder. It commonly begins in young adulthood; about half of all people who have panic disorder develop it before the age 24. Women are twice as likely as men to develop panic disorder.Panic disorder may continue for months or years if left untreated. When left untreated, it can become so debilitating the people may refuse to leave the house or need to become hospitalized quite frequently.

What triggers a panic attack can vary from individual to individual. Some common triggers include drug use especially marijuana, alcohol or drug induced hangovers and hypoglycemia.

What Can Untreated Panic Attacks Lead too? Untreated, panic disorder can lead to many serious and debilitating issues. The most common of these is the development of phobias,many times these phobias have to do with not being in control of ones environment, many common phobias include;

  • The fear of flying
  • Elevators
  • Fear of leaving the house
  • Confined Spaces
  • Crowded Places
  • Fear of Driving
  • Other people driving, many sufferers will make excuses to take their own car to events so they have an escape plan.
  • Increased fear of heights
  • Bridges and Mountain Roads

In addition to phobias, relationships may suffer as the individual no longer calls or wants to go out with friends and family. In addition, people with panic disorder may need treatment for other emotional problems. Clinical depression has often been associated with panic disorder, as have alcoholism and drug addiction. About 30% of people with panic disorder use alcohol and 17% use drugs to alleviate the anguish and distress caused by their condition. Recent research also suggests that suicide attempts are more frequent in people with panic disorder.

What is the Treatment for Panic Attacks? Panic disorder is real and potentially disabling, but it can be controlled with specific treatments. Treatment for panic disorder includes medications and a type of psychotherapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy. Appropriate treatment by an experienced professional can reduce or prevent panic attacks in 70 to 90 percent of people with panic disorder. Most patients show significant progress after a few weeks of therapy.

Medications can include antidepressants (SSRI's, MAOI's, etc.) taken every day, or anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines, e.g. -- Valium, Ativan, Xanax, etc.) during or in anticipation of panic attacks.

Exposure to the phobia trigger multiple times without a resulting panic attack (due to medication) can often break the phobia-panic pattern, allowing people to function around their phobia without the help of medications.

How do I Stop a Panic Attack Once it begins? I follow several steps when an attack occurs. Fist recognize that this is a temporary thing and it will pass. I like to control the physical response which in turn lessons the mental response. Your adrenalin has provoked most of the physical issues so try and get it to subside. If you feel you can exercise by all means get on a treadmill or lift some weights. I used to pace around the house for what seemed like forever.

Refuse to think "what if" thoughts. What if i go crazy, what if i have a heart attack, what if someone sees me? The what if's are a no no, every time you get in this mode just tell yourself that you will consider the question at another time. What facilitates many of these attacks is the underlying fear of dying. Know that you are not going to die during one of these episodes.

Control your situation. If you are in a place that makes you uncomfortable leave. I know many say that this just results in an avoidance issue or possible phobia over time, but i say that most of those people have never had a true panic attack. You can always deal with the avoidance issue later.

Don't let your mind win. It wants to keep you in the negative thinking mode. Memorize a prayer or poem and say it over and over until the the episode subsides. Deep breathing works 2 ways, it helps regulate your physical response, and because you are focusing on it it, your thoughts drift from the negative.

Medication also may work for many. See your doctor for what may be best for you.

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External Website Resources:

Mayo Clinic panic attacks and panic disorder

WebMD panic and anxiety disorder

eMedicinehealth overview, causes and symptoms for panic attacks

Anxiety and Panic attacks Forum

Panic and Anxiety Help
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