Panic attacks


Panic attacks are relatively common. They happen to perfectly reasonable people. “A large number of adult people have experienced panic attacks at some time in their lives,” says Dr. Irene Vogel, an American psychologist in Washington D.C. “Some never have more than one or two attacks and don’t even know that they had one.” They may blame their symptoms on something else, such as drinking too much coffee, etc.

We’re all more likely to have panic attacks at some time during periods of stress. But some of us seem to inherit a vulnerability to attacks, say researchers, since the attacks appear to run in families. For reasons that scientists don’t completely understand, panic attacks are more common in women than men.

The symptoms of panic attacks vary from person to person, but they usually include a combination of the following: difficulty of breathing, sweating, chest pain or discomfort, loss of balance, feelings of unreality, trembling, tingling or numbness in the extremities, nausea, palpitations, smothering sensations and hot or cold flashes. There is always overwhelming anxiety. Most attacks last just minutes, and few go on more than an hour.

People who experience panic worry that they’re having heart attacks or dying or going crazy, explains Dr. Heirtler. That explanation compounds the anxiety and perpetuates the symptoms – the pounding heart, the sweating, and shallow breathing – further convincing people that they really are having a heart attack, dying or going crazy.

What’s more, worrying that you’ll have a panic attack increases the odds that one will indeed occur, says Dr. Irene Vogel.

If indeed the problem is panic, experts recommend immediate professional help, because treatment gets more difficult, the more entrenched the problem becomes.

Treatment may involve a variety of approaches from behavior therapy to medication (at least temporarily).