Panic Attacks – A Special Brand of Stress

Panic Attacks – A Special Brand of Stress

Panic attacks strike without warning, without obvious reasons and bring an overwhelming fear.  It is far more intense that a feeling of being ‘stressed out’ than what most people experience.  Instead of stress people who experience panic attacks find the experience terrifying.

The number of people who suffer from panic attacks is rather large.  The Merck Manual reports that they happen in 33% of adults each year.  Some experience an isolated attack without ever having another.  Or these attacks can be part of other anxiety disorders such as social phobia, panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.

Although panic attacks also happen in people who are suffering other anxiety disorders there is a difference between anxiety and panic.  The actual difference is in the duration and intensity of the symptoms.  Panic attacks are episodes that last for only a short time while anxiety attacks occur gradually, are less intense and last for longer periods of time.

Physical symptoms anxiety panic attacks are often marked by an increased heart rate and a feeling that the heart may pound right out of the chest.  People report they feel dizzy, get sick to their stomach and it”s hard to catch their breath.  People feel like they may be dying or going crazy.

When the symptoms develop abruptly and reach peak in 10 minutes the individual is experiencing a panic attack.  According to the DSM IV people will suffer from at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations, pounding hear or increased heart rate
  • Chest pain
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Feeling of choking
  • Sweating
  • Nausea/Vomiting – Abdominal or stomach pain
  • Unsteady, dizzy or faint
  • Feeling detached from self
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Cold or hot flashes
  • Difficulty swallowing

Most panic attacks end within 20 or 30 minutes but some can last as long as an hour.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health approximately 2.4 million Americans age 18 to 54 have a panic disorder.  This may coexist with other disorders – most often