Panic attacks are periods of intense fear that occur suddenly, when there seems to be nothing obviously threatening to the sufferer. When the attack comes, it feels as if there is very real danger and the body’s reaction is intense.
Common symptoms of a panic attack include:
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid or pounding heart beat
- Chest pain
- Feeling unsteady
- Choking or smothering sensations
- Numbness or tingling
- Chills or hot flashes
- Trembling or shaking
- Nausea or abdominal pains
- Feeling unreal or disconnected
- Fear of losing control, “going crazy”, or dying
If a person has four or more of these symptoms and they occur more than once, the experience may be classified as a panic attack. These symptoms may lead one to seek medical care. However, if told that the problem is psychological, or there is nothing medically wrong, symptoms can escalate and become more disruptive unless treatment is sought. Persons may become fearful of further attacks and become isolated, may begin to avoid activities that seem to trigger panic, and eventually may become unwilling to venture away from home.
Panic is very treatable, with success rates up to 90 percent. Counseling involves learning about the illness, monitoring symptoms, learning relaxation techniques, exploring and rethinking potentially erroneous interpretations, and gradual exposure to situations triggering the physical symptoms.