Panic attacks are discrete periods of intense anxiety, fear and discomfort that are associated with a variety of somatic and cognitive symptoms. The onset of these episodes is typically abrupt, and may have no obvious trigger. Although these episodes may appear random, they are considered to be a subset of an evolutionary response commonly referred to as fight or fligth that occur out of context, flooding the body with hormones (particularly adrenalin) that aid in defending itself from harm. Panic Attacks also affect people differently. Experienced sufferers may be able to completely ‘ride out’ a panic attack with little to no obvious symptoms. Others, notably first time suffers, may even call for emergency services; many who experience a panic attack for the first time fear they are having a Heart attack.
Panic attacks are sudden surges of overwhelming fear that that comes without warning and without any obvious reason. It is far more intense than having anxiety or the feeling of being ‘stressed out’ that most people experience. One out of every 75 people worldwide will experience a panic attack at one time in their lives.
Although panic attacks were once dismissed as nerves or stress, they’re now recognized as a potentially disabling, but treatable condition. A variety of approaches, including medications, therapy and relaxation techniques, can help you control or prevent panic attacks.
These episodes can occur at any time, even during sleep. A person experiencing a panic attack may believe that he or she is having a heart attack or that death is imminent. The fear and terror that a person experiences during a panic attack are not in proportion to the true situation and may be unrelated to what is happening around them.
A substantial number of panic disorder sufferers develop agoraphobia, avoiding situations where they imagine an attack might occur or where help or escape would be difficult. Agoraphobics may be unable to eat in restaurants, travel in cars or planes, cross wide streets or shop in supermarkets. Some may not venture outside their homes. Agoraphobia is an intense and irrational fear of being in public places. People who have agoraphobia are afraid of being in any place or situation from which it might be hard for them to escape.

The symptoms

• Intense terror
• Sweating
• Numbness or tingling, especially in the hands or feet
• Hot or cold flashes
• Shortness of breath
• Faintness
• Heart palpitations
• Trembling
• Chest discomfort
• Feelings of unreality
• Nausea
• Choking or smothering sensations
• Fear of losing control, going crazy or dying

How it feels?

The main symptom of a Panic Anxiety Disorder is the panic attack itself. Panic Anxiety Disorder is a medical disorder characterized by severe and sudden episodes.
It is important to mention that sudden episodes of the symptoms listed above caused by another reasonable cause are not panic attacks. Two such reasonable causes would be (1) a certain medical ailment that might mimic a panic attack, or (2) a life threatening experience immediately preceding the attack. If these reasonable causes are found not be the cause of the problem then there is the possibility of a Panic Disorder.
Panic attacks reach maximum intensity within a minute or two once they begin. They diminish slowly over the next 30 minutes or the next several hours. It is common for the first attack to cause a person to go to an emergency medical facility. Subsequent attacks occur several times a month and are often as severe as the initial attack.
More women than men are affected by panic attacks. Some people are affected by frequent panic attacks, a condition known as panic disorder.
About three fourths of Panic Disorder patients are women. Panic Anxiety Disorder begins most often when people are 20-30 years old. It begins less often in teenagers or persons in their forties. It is uncommon for the disorder to appear in the elderly for the first time.
It is important to note that although a few experts say it is more common in persons who experienced a separation experience as a child, many of experts feel that Panic Anxiety Disorder afflicts emotionally healthy people. Persons having Panic attacks are no more likely than the average American to have suffered from emotional problems at the time the disorder begins.
Panic attacks are generally brief, lasting less than ten minutes, although some of the symptoms may persist for a longer time. People who have had one panic attack are at greater risk for having subsequent panic attacks than those who have never experienced a panic attack. When the attacks occur repeatedly, a person is considered to have a condition known as Panic Disorder.
People with panic disorder may be extremely anxious and fearful, since they are unable to predict when the next episode will ocurr. There is also some evidence that suggests that the tendency to develop Panic Disorder may run in families. People who suffer from Panic Disorder are also more likely than others to suffer from depression, attempt suicide, or to abuse alcohol or drugs.

What can we do to help a person with panic attacks?

  • First, relax your shoulders and become conscious of any tension that you may be feeling in your muscles.
  • Then, with gentle reassurance, progressively tense and relax all the large muscle groups. Tighten your left leg with a deep breath in, for example, hold it, then release the leg muscles and the breath. Move on to the other leg. Move up the body, one muscle group at a time.
  • Slow down your breathing. This may best be done blowing out every breath through pursed lips as if blowing out a candle. Also, place your hands on your stomach to feel the rapidity of your breathing. This may allow you to further control your symptoms.
  • Tell yourself (or someone else if you are trying this technique with someone) that you are not “going crazy.” If you are concerned about not being able to breathe, remember that if you are able to talk, you are able to breathe.

Treatment

The cause of most panic attacks is not clear, so treatment may be different for each person. Typically, it involves psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or medication. Alternative treatments like meditation and relaxation therapy are often used to help relax the body and relieve anxiety.
Psychotherapy offers support and helps to minimize the fearfulness of symptoms, and sometimes is sufficient to clear up the disorder. Recurrent attacks, however, require additional measures.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps people learn to deal with panic symptoms, using techniques like muscle and breathing relaxation. They also gain reassurance that panic will not lead to the catastrophic events they fear, since many people fear they are having a heart attack.
Sources: Health Yahoo, Anxietypanic

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