Is It All Just In Your Head?

The intense fear that comes with panic attack disorder characterizes itself in ways that make it difficult to identify. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 2.7 percent of adults in the United States suffer from these sudden attacks. Learning how to pinpoint the symptoms of panic attacks can help you manage episodes and break out of this potentially debilitating cycle.

Risk Factors

Although medical science does not know why some people suffer this way, there are certain factors that put you at risk. Genetics would seem to play a role, as well as a history of abuse. Other situations that can lead to the disorder include:

• Stressful lifestyle

• Death of a loved one

• Life changes

• A traumatic event

Certain studies suggest that the body protects itself with a natural fight or flight response in that face of danger. It is possible that a panic attack is a malfunction of this instinct.

Identifying a Panic Attack

It is difficult to identify acute anxiety because the symptoms are similar to another major medical emergency – heart attack. It is common for those experiencing their first attacks to go to the hospital believing that is the problem. Once testing rules out cardiac involvement, the next likely cause of the pain is anxiety. If there is any doubt, it is better to err on the side of caution and seek medical help.

One characteristic of a panic attack is sudden onset. Most attacks happen with little or no warning and peak in intensity within a minute. After the initial surge, the symptoms begin to diminish and stop completely in 30 minutes to an hour. Another feature to consider when determining a panic attack is underlying feelings. Anxiety that escalates to a full-blown attack comes with a sense of doom, impending death or loss of control. Other symptoms include:

• Sweating

• Shortness of breath

• Chills

• Nausea

• Cramps

• Trembling

• Chest pain

• Hyperventilation

• Dizziness

• Throat tightness with difficulty swallowing

It is vital for a person suffering from this disorder to seek treatment. The panic can occur at any moment regardless of the activity. This means you could have an incident while driving a car or walking down stairs. Prevention is a challenge – for some it will require medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, SSRIs or even a mild sedative like Xanax or Ativan. Sufferers should get plenty of exercise and avoid both alcohol and caffeine.

Once your doctor develops a treatment plan, sticking to it can help prevent further symptoms of panic attacks. Through a process of stress management, drug therapy, and psychotherapy; panic attacks can become a thing of the past.

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