Understanding Panic Attacks

A panic attack begins suddenly without warning. They can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.


The fear experienced during a panic attack is so intense the sufferer feels like they are going to die or lose their minds.

When a panic attack occurs with a first-time victim, they often believe they are suffering a heart attack, or having a mental break-down. They will frequently call for paramedics and end up in the emergency ward for tests and observation.

A panic attack originates in the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), and symptoms vary from chest pain to lightheadedness to numbness and tingling sensations, among others. During the attack, the SNS releases large amounts of epinephrine, the fight-or-flight response hormone.

Panic attacks are an extreme form of anxiety and can be correlated to certain mental or emotional disorders. This does not mean, however, that they are associated with a psychological disorder necessarily. Major life events such as marriage, divorce, job loss, or grad school can bring on these terrifying attacks.

Some causes of panic attacks include a genetic predisposition, phobias, medications or drug withdrawal, stimulants, and certain medical conditions. Women and people with above-average IQs experience these attacks with more frequency.

If panic attacks occur with regularity, they are symptomatic of a panic disorder. Medical professionals use screening assessment tools, one of which is the Panic Disorder Severity Scale (PDSS) to pinpoint the source of the attack syndrome. The PDSS report may recommend further diagnostic screening.

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