Saturday, 05 January 2019 18:08

What is a panic attack and why does it happen?

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What is a panic attack and why does it happen?

Everyone panics at some point in their lives. It is a part of human nature to panic when confronted with situations that have an urgency associated with them. However, a panic attack is entirely different from panicking. Panic attacks are marked by intense fear and are often a result of quick but unanticipated circumstances. They can last from a minute to even an hour, and the after effects of a panic attack can last even days.

Most people who experience a panic attack for the first time mistake it for a heart attack. Short breaths and chest pain accompanied by a flashing vision and fainting are often associated with a panic attack. Such attacks are often a result of undesirable situations and the concerned individual may react violently, if not allowed to escape the situation. Though not usually an indication of mental disorder, they are often accompanied by anxiety disorders and other conditions of psychological nature.

Signs and Symptoms:

A panic attack is characterized by a variety of symptoms and these symptoms may differ with individuals and circumstances. Accelerated heart rate, sweating and short breaths occur in almost all cases. The symptoms develop over time and reach a peak in about 10 minutes. Other possible symptoms are:

1. Feeling of choking
2. Shaking or trembling
3. Fainting, or feeling dizzy and lightheaded
4. Fear of impending death
5. Chest pain
6. Palpitations


Panic attacks are often a result of phobic circumstances. However, quite contrary to popular belief, panic attacks can be a result of a variety of reasons:

1. Heredity
Panic disorders have been known to run in families across several generations. This means that inheritance plays a major role in determining a person's susceptibility of being subject to a panic attack.

2. Biological reasons
Obsessive compulsive disorders and hypoglycemia are known to increase the chances of having a panic attack.

3. Phobias
People panic when confronted with situations or objects they fear.

4. Triggers
Loss of a loved one, especially spouse or children, can lead to panic attacks. Significant and quick changes to life too can be a reason

5. Lack of assertiveness
People who experience panic attacks are often found to be of a passive character and soft-spoken. They often lack the ability to assert themselves and carry them through difficult situations. Such people always need support and start panicking on the prospect of having to face a difficult situation alone.

6. Medications
Panic attacks can occur as a side effect to medications such as methylphenidate.

7. Alcohol and drugs
Alcohol and drug withdrawal can cause a person to panic and in some cases undergo a panic attack.

8. Repeating situations
When a panic attack happens to someone when confronted with a particular situation, they tend to associate that situation to the attack. These individuals then develop a pre-disposition to having panic attacks, when similar situations arise.

When trying to help a person having a panic attack, establishing and maintaining a regular breathing pattern, should be of primary concern. Breathing exercises can help in such situations. Once the attack is successfully stopped, psychological therapies and medication can be followed, to reduce the chances of having an attack, in the future.

Julie Smith

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