Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Panic Attack – What is it? Why it happens?

What is a panic attack?
Each of us has probably felt “panicked” when faced with a crisis, meaning we got really scared or upset. A panic attack is different than just feeling panicky or nervous, however. A panic attack feels like a surge or a wave of fear coming over you. Typically, an attack lasts from a few minutes to half an hour, but the sensations can continue for longer periods. During a panic attack, you experience four or more of the following symptoms at the same time:
#Increased heart rate, pounding heart (palpitations)
#Sweating
#Trembling or shaking
#Shortness of breath or smothering sensations
#Feeling of choking
#Chest pain or discomfort
#Nausea or abdominal distress
#Dizziness or lightheadedness
#Feeling unreal or detached from yourself
#Fear of losing control or going crazy
#Fear of dying
#Numbness or tingling
#Chills or hot flushes


First, it is very important to rule out medical reasons for panic symptoms, such as cardiac, thyroid, or metabolic problems. Once your doctor has confirmed that there is no medical basis for your symptoms, it’s a good bet that you’re having a panic attack. As with other anxiety disorders, your body’s alarm system is over-functioning. A panic attack is like one alarm setting off another until the whole building is screaming. Having a single symptom feels uncomfortable, but when several symptoms happen together all at once, the experience is quite frightening. In addition, the symptoms seem to come out of the blue If you have suffered panic attacks, you may try to escape or avoid situations where you might panic again—work, the mall, restaurants, crowds, driving, being alone—and this can be debilitating. Although nobody likes to endure panic attacks, they are actually more common than you might think.

How does a panic attack happen? – An Example

Although it seems that a panic attack comes out of nowhere, it is more the case of one symptom building on another as we interpret the worst. Let’s look at this example of a woman sitting at her desk at work:

Behavior: Notices her heart is beating a little faster
Thought: “Oh God, what’s happening?”
Symptoms: Heart rate speeds up; breathing becomes shallower
Thoughts: “This is awful. Something must be wrong.”

Behavior: Can’t concentrate on work; looks for a way to escape; tries to gulp air.
Symptoms: Heart races, shortness of breath intensifies; shaking and sweating develop.
Thoughts: “I can’t stand this. I’ve got to make it stop.”

Symptoms: Pounding heart; pronounced shortness of breath; shaking and sweatiness continue; lightheadedness and nausea develop…and so on until she is engaged in a full-blown panic attack.

Once this woman has experienced a panic attack, she can develop a tremendous dread of having the symptoms recur. She often starts looking for and noticing any small changes in her bodily sensations. Becoming preoccupied with harmless body fluctuations can actually increase the chances of having more panic attacks. Negative thinking, shallow chest breathing, and avoiding previously enjoyable or productive activities out of fear of panic can also worsen and prolong problems with panic attacks.

What happens in the body when one experience panic symptoms?

Understanding the physical sensations that occur during a panic attack may be one of the best tools for coping with panic. Although it may be hard to believe, none of the sensations associated with panic is harmful in any way. In fact, these symptoms were originally intended to protect the person from danger. To understand this point, it is helpful to think about our prehistoric ancestors. People living in cave times had one main objective—to stay alive. Survival basically meant being able to fight a predator or escape from one. To achieve this fight or flight goal, our ancestors’ bodies needed to respond quickly and defensively against perceived threats. This response system has been passed on to us, and all the sensations that characterize a panic attack are actually part of what’s known as our “fight-or-flight” ability.


Here are the lists of symptoms and the reason of each symptoms explained:

Increased heart rate - Reason: An accelerated heart rate increases blood flow to the large muscles of the body (e.g., quadriceps, biceps), giving them more oxygen and helping them to prepare for fighting or running away

Shortness of breath, Chest pain, Feeling of choking Reason: Each of these symptoms is related to increased breathing. In the face of danger, our breathing accelerates to deliver more oxygen to the tissues involved in fighting or fleeing. (Think about times when you have run really fast.) One of the side effects is that the chest muscles are working really hard, which can result in chest pain or tightness

Dizziness, Lightheadedness, Feeling unreal, Feeling outside of yourself Reason: These sensations are related to changes associated with the increased breathing rate during fighting or fleeing. As a result of overbreathing, slightly less oxygen reaches the brain. This change is not at all harmful, but it can lead to feeling lightheaded, faint, or confused.

Cold, clammy hands, Numbness, Tingling Reason: Blood leaves the skin, fingers, and toes to keep a person from bleeding to death in the case of a severe cut or other wound. More blood is sent to the large muscle groups for fighting or getting away.

Sweating Reason: This cools the body down. Sweating also makes the body more slippery, which hindered attackers’ ability to grab and harm our cave ancestors.

Nausea or abdominal distress Reason: Less activity is used for digestive processes—most of the body’s energy and resources are being devoted to the large muscle groups for fighting or getting away from danger.

Trembling or shaking Reason: Muscles can feel shaky because they are contracting to prepare for fighting or fleeing a threat.

Hot flushes Reason: Preparing the body for fighting or running away uses a lot of energy, which results in feeling hot.

1 Responses:

Lary May 19, 2009 at 3:25 AM  

Thanks us for letting us know a lot about symptoms of panic attacks.
Good Day

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In this blog the outline of different diseases and their treatment are written, compiling from different medical text books. They are meant for your overall knowledge about the disease and not for any self treatment. Always consult registered medical personnel for the treatment of any ailments.

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