A panic attack is a sudden rush of physical symptoms that reaches a peak within less than 10 minutes. The physical symptoms include: breathlessness, palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, trembling, sweating, dry mouth, nausea, feeling unreal, numbness or tingling (especially in the lips or fingers) chills or hot flushes, a choking sensation.
In addition there may be a fear that you will die, lose control or go crazy. At least four of these symptoms need to be experienced to diagnose a panic attack. Although panic attacks feel horrible they are not in fact dangerous and the symptoms usually subside within a few minutes. Triggers for panic attacks are different for different people. They might start with mild sensations of anxiety caused by stress, tiredness, drugs or alcohol.
Panic disorder is diagnosed when people have repeated panic attacks, some of which come on unexpectedly or ‘out of the blue’. People with panic disorder experience frequent periods of intense fear and anxiety when there is no real danger. These periods of intense fear are accompanied by strong physical sensations and by thoughts that you might die or lose control.
The main fear in panic disorder is fear of having a panic attack rather than fear of a specific situation, activity or object (e.g. heights, public speaking or spiders – these might be phobias). Panic attacks can feel so frightening that people who have panicked in a particular situation (such as travelling on public transport or being in a crowded place) often find it difficult to go back into those situations and try to avoid them. If you avoid these situations then this is called ‘panic disorder with agoraphobia’. People with agoraphobia might become too frightened to leave their home much because they are afraid of having another panic attack.
Panic attacks are common (research has shown that one in ten of us will have at least one panic attack in a year). Panic attacks can happen to anyone. If you have repeated panic attacks (some of which come on unexpectedly and out of the blue) and are very worried about having more panic attacks then you may have developed panic disorder.
The most effective treatment for panic disorder is a talking therapy called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. CBT can help you identify and manage the sensations of a panic attack so that you become less afraid of them and can make changes to reclaim your life.
We offer help to deal with a range of issues including:
If you need urgent help and are worried that you can’t keep yourself safe, City and Hackney has a 24-hour Crisis helpline on 0800 073 0006 or you can get help at your local Accident and Emergency department.