Panic attacks

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A panic attack is a sudden urge of overwhelming anxiety and fear. Your heart pounds and you can’t breathe. If a panic attack is left untreated, they can lead to panic disorder. Panic attacks can be cured and the sooner you seek help, the better.

Understanding panic attacks:

Panic attacks strike out of the blue and without any warning. Panic attacks may only happen once but many people experience repeated episodes of panic attacks. Panic attacks are triggered by a specific situation where you feel endangered and unable to escape. Panic attacks may also occur due to other disorders such as panic disorder or depression. There are many treatments and coping strategies available to help deal with the symptoms.

Signs and symptoms: 

Panic attacks can happen anytime and anywhere, normally they strike when you are away from home. Panic attack symptoms usually reach their peak in about 10 minutes and last for about 20 – 30 minutes. You may experience the following;

Shortness of breath or hyperventilation

  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Feeling light-headed
  • Fainting
  • Shaking
  • Numbness
  • Hot or cold flushes
  • Fear of losing control
  • Headache

Causes:

There seems to be a connection between panic attacks and major life events such as; severe stress, death, divorce or job loss. Panic attacks can also be caused by other medical conditions;

  • Hyperthyroidism (over active thyroid gland)
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Stimulant use (caffeine)

Treatment:

Luckily panic attacks are treatable conditions and they can be successfully treated with self-help strategies, medication or therapy sessions.

Medications can be used to temporarily control or reduce the symptoms but is more effective when combined with other treatments like therapy or life-style changes.

Antidepressants; they take several weeks before they begin to work.

Benzodiazepines; these are anti-anxiety medications and act very quickly although they can be addictive and may have withdrawal symptoms.

Self-help tips:

Learn more: Knowing about panic attacks may help you relieve your distress, read up on panic disorder, anxiety and the flight-or-flight response experienced during a panic attack.

Avoid smoking and caffeine: these can provoke panic attacks in people who are susceptible.

Control your breathing: shortness of breath may cause lightheadedness. Deep breathing can relieve the symptoms. You can learn to calm yourself down when you begin to feel anxious by controlling your breathing.

Relaxation techniques: yoga, meditation and muscle relaxation strengthens the body’s relaxation response and increase feelings of joy.

With treatment you can reduce or control the symptoms of panic attacks and regain control of your life.

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