It’s like having a heart attack. Your hands feel numb, your heart is racing that you have difficulty breathing, and a feeling of terror strike suddenly and repeatedly without any warning. A panic attack is almost like a violent experience. You may feel disconnected from reality. In between attacks, there is dread and anxiety that it’s going to happen again.
Panic attacks are symptoms of panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder affecting millions of adults in the U.S. today. It usually develops during the late teens and early adulthood, and may afflict twice as many women as men. However, not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop panic disorder. While the exact cause of panic disorder is yet to be known, researchers suspect a combination of biological and environmental factors may contribute to the development of the condition. It includes family history, stressful life events, drug and alcohol abuse, and thinking patterns that exaggerated normal physical reactions.
Though panic attacks usually produce a sense of unreality, it is a real illness that can be treated successfully. It can be a truly terrifying experience and may occur at any time, even during sleep. An attack usually peaks within 10 minutes, but some symptoms may last much longer. During a panic attack, your heart will pound and you may feel sweaty, weak, faint, or dizzy. Your hands may tingle or feel numb, and you might feel flushed or chilled. You may have nausea, chest pain or smothering sensations, a sense of unreality, or fear of impending doom or loss of control.
When faced with a problem or a situation, people experience anxiety. It’s quite normal to be anxious about stressful situations. However, someone who is suffering from panic disorder may react to the same pressures with an exaggerated physical reaction. This makes panic attack even more frightening because despite of the absence of real danger, episodes can still happen anytime, anywhere. It can occur while strolling in the park, chilling out with friends, shopping at the mall, and even in the middle of the night while you are sound asleep.
Fear of having another attack usually haunts a person suffering from panic disorder. Such fear can severely affect daily activities. There are people who would refuse to leave their houses for fear of becoming vulnerable to such attacks, or they try to avoid being reminded of previous attacks. Over time, they may develop other mental disorders or phobia, such as agoraphobia or the fear of being outside of known and safe surroundings.
Panic disorder is often accompanied by other serious problems, such as depression, drug abuse, or alcoholism. The good news is that there is a wide variety of effective treatments for panic disorder available. Some of the better known treatments are called psychotherapy or talk therapy, cognitive, or biofeedback therapy. These methods were developed to help alter a person’s response to triggers. Other treatment options include the use of antidepressant medications and beta-blockers. A change in lifestyle, such as limiting caffeine and having a daily fitness regimen, can also help reduce symptoms of panic disorder.