Panic Attacks Range from Minor to Debilitating, Isolating

If you sometimes feel so stressed that it causes physical symptoms and even debilitating fear, you could be suffering from panic attacks.

Panic disorders are characterized by unexpected panic attacks that happen without anything specific provoking them, says Matthew Stone, DO, of Middletown Family Practice, part of Premier Physician Network.

Having a panic attack can cause sudden and intense feelings of fear that show themselves in physical ways, including:

  • Dread that you might die
  • Feeling like choking
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tremors

The cause of panic attacks is unknown, and they could be related to genetic or environmental factors.

They can occur as often as several times a day, or you might only have one once or twice a year.

“The difficulty with panic attacks – because they’re so unpredictable – is that people often become fearful of going out into other activities because they may experience a panic attack,” Dr. Stone said. “People begin to do social isolation, so panic attacks can be quite crippling, even with just a few small attacks.”

Treatment And Management

Dr. Stone recommends you always be evaluated by your health care provider if you think you’ve had a panic attack.

“There are many other physical and psychological conditions that mimic panic attacks,” he says. “So, before we make that diagnosis, you really want to make sure you’ve had a thorough medical evaluation.”

Cardiac disorders, pulmonary disorders, and endocrine disorders are among the numerous conditions that have symptoms resembling panic attacks.

If you have panic attacks, your health care provider can help treat them with medication or with psychotherapy, which Dr. Stone says are both equally effective. Your provider can help you decide the treatment option that’s right for you.

Panic attacks generally last between 10 minutes and a half hour. If someone you know is having panic attack symptoms that last longer, it’s important to seek medical attention to make sure there isn’t a more serious health problem, such as a heart or neurological condition.

“Probably the most important thing you could do for a patient who has panic attacks is to just sit with them, remain calm, hold their hand, and be very reassuring,” Dr. Stone says.

To learn more about panic attacks, talk to your doctor or health care provider or search for a provider.