A panic attack involves the sudden appearance of intense fear or discomfort plus at least four (4) of the following physical and emotional symptoms:
- Chest pain or discomfort;
- A sensation of choking;
- Dizziness, unsteadiness, or faintness;
- Fear of dying;
- Fear of going crazy or of losing control;
- Feelings of unreality, strangeness, or detachment from the environment;
- Flushes or chills;
- Nausea, stomachache, or diarrhoea;
- Numbness or tingling sensations;
- Palpitations or an accelerated heart rate;
- Shortness of breath or a sense of being smothered;
- Sweating; and/or
- Trembling or shaking.
Many individuals with panic disorder also have symptoms of depression.
Symptoms usually peak within 10 minutes and disappear within minutes, leaving little for a medical professional to observe except the individual’s fear of another terrifying attack.
Because panic attacks may occur for no apparent reason, individuals who have them frequently anticipate and worry about another attack – a condition known as anticipatory anxiety – and try to avoid situations that they associate with previous panic attacks.
Because symptoms of a panic attack involve many vital organs, individuals often worry that they have a dangerous medical problem involving the heart, lungs, or brain. For example, a panic attack can feel like a heart attack.
Thus, individuals may repeatedly visit their medical professional or a hospital emergency department.
If the correct diagnosis of panic attack is not made, they may have the additional worry that a serious medical problem has been overlooked.
Although panic attacks are uncomfortable – at times extremely so – they are not dangerous.
The frequency of attacks can vary greatly. Some individuals have weekly or even daily attacks that occur for months, whereas others have several daily attacks followed by weeks or months without attacks.