A panic attack is the sudden occurrence of intense fear that develops for no apparent reason and generally triggers a variety of physical symptoms. Panic attacks can be very frightening and distressing to the individual. Individuals who develop panic attacks often complain that they feel as if they have lost control, are having a heart attack, or have an impending sense of doom.
In the past, panic attacks were simply dismissed by physicians as an exaggerated response to stress or bad nerves, but today it is recognized as a bona fide medical disorder that can affect quality of life.
The symptoms of panic attack usually include a rapid heat rate, sweating, tremors, shortness of breath, fast breathing, hot flashes, nausea, abdominal cramps, vague chest pain, headaches, faintness, tightness in the throat and difficulty speaking. The attacks usually develop suddenly without warning and can occur in any situation. The symptoms peak at about 10 minutes and may last anywhere from 30-60 minutes. After the attack, most individuals feel exhausted. The worst thing about panic attack is the profound fear that one develops and sensing that something bad will happen. Like many things in mental health, no one knows what causes panic attacks. Experts believe that this is an exaggerated response to normal stress. Some individuals only develop one to two attacks in their lifetime, but others may develop one attack every few months. If left untreated, panic attacks can significantly affect the quality of life. One may avoid going out of the home, become depressed, develop suicidal thoughts, start to abuse alcohol or drugs, and develop phobias about driving or leaving the home.
Once diagnosed, panic attacks can be treated. The aim of all treatments is to reduce or eliminate the panic attack symptoms. The two options of treatment include medications and psychotherapy. Most people benefit from a combination of these two therapies. The drugs used to treat panic attacks include SSRIs, tricyclic anti-depressants and benzodiazepines. Unfortunately, many people do not respond to one class of drugs and may have to be tried on several combinations.