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If you’ve ever had a sudden feeling of fear, danger, or doom that made your heart race, choked off your breathing, or made you want to run away without knowing which way to turn, you may have experienced a panic attack.
Panic attacks, also known as anxiety attacks, are one of several types of anxiety disorders that affect millions of Americans every year. Each anxiety disorder has a specific set of triggers and symptoms. The disorder that can lead to panic attacks is known as panic disorder.
In the United States women are twice as likely as men to have panic disorder. All together, an estimated 6 million Americans have the condition, which normally develops in early adulthood. Panic attacks can occur with no warning and may even start while you are asleep.
People who experience seemingly random panic attacks often live with an obsessive fear that another attack is about to occur. This fear of another attack can limit their regular activities as they become too afraid of an attack to risk leaving home or participate in normal events. (ADAA)
Panic disorder is a recognizable medical condition that can be effectively treated. But many people do not seek medical help because they are afraid they will be told they are “imagining things” or because they are embarrassed. In order to be diagnosed as a medical condition, panic attacks must have a rapid onset that reaches a peak of intense fear within a few minutes.
Attacks must include at least four of these symptoms:
• Feelings of doom or immediate danger
• Feeling the need to escape
• Feeling that things are unreal, that your own behavior is strange, or a lost sense of identity
• Rapid or uneven heart beat
• Chest pain or tightness
• Shortness of breath or feeling smothered
• Feeling of choking
• Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
• Feeling that parts of your body are tingling
• Feeling of chills or heat flush
• Fear of losing control
• Fear of dying
Anxiety attacks may occur randomly with no apparent trigger or may be a response to a specific stressful event or experience.