Panic Attacks

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder where you regularly have sudden attacks of panic or fear.


Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety and panic at certain times. It's a natural response to stressful or dangerous situations.

But for someone with panic disorder, feelings of anxiety, stress and panic occur regularly and at any time, often for no apparent reason.


Symptoms


Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of unease. It can range from mild to severe, and can include feelings of worry and fear. The most severe form of anxiety is panic.


You may start to avoid certain situations because you fear they'll trigger another attack.


This can create a cycle of living "in fear of fear". It can add to your sense of panic and may cause you to have more attacks.


Panic attacks

A panic attack is when your body experiences a rush of intense mental and physical symptoms. It can come on very quickly and for no apparent reason. A panic attack can be very frightening and distressing.


Symptoms include:

  • a racing heartbeat
  • feeling faint
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • trembling
  • hot flushes
  • chills
  • shaky limbs
  • a choking sensation
  • dizziness
  • numbness or pins and needles
  • dry mouth
  • a need to go to the toilet
  • ringing in your ears
  • a feeling of dread or a fear of dying
  • a churning stomach
  • a tingling sensation in your fingers
  • feeling like you're not connected to your body

Most panic attacks last for between 5 and 20 minutes. Some panic attacks have been reported to last up to an hour.


Although panic attacks are frightening, they're not dangerous. An attack won't cause you any physical harm, and it's unlikely that you'll be admitted to hospital if you have one.


Treatments for panic disorder

Treatment aims to reduce the number of panic attacks you have and ease your symptoms.

  • Psychological therapies
  • Medication
  • Referral to a specialist

Preventing a further attack

It may also help to:

  • read a self-help book for anxiety based on the principles of CBT (ask your GP to recommend one)
  • try complementary therapies such as massage and aromatherapy, or activities like yoga and pilates, to help you relax
  • learn breathing techniques to help ease symptoms
  • do regular physical exercise to reduce stress and tension
  • avoid sugary food and drinks, caffeine and alcohol, and stop smoking, as all these things can make attacks worse

Causes

As with many mental health conditions, the exact cause of panic disorder isn't fully understood.


But it's thought the condition is probably linked to a combination of things, including:

  • a traumatic or very stressful life experience, such as bereavement
  • having a close family member with the disorder
  • an imbalance of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain
  • Panic disorder in children
  • Panic disorder is more common in teenagers than in younger children.
  • Panic attacks can be particularly hard for children and young people to deal with. Severe panic disorder may affect their development and learning.