What Are Panic Attacks?
To all of us the word “panic” implies fear and loss of control, usually with no time for clear thinking. When we panic, we can’t focus on any particular reason for the extreme fear that brings on physical changes or strong feelings. Sometimes we might even feel that we are going to die because of the situation we’re in.
When we are attacked we suddenly feel helpless and it is hard to convince others that we truly feel threatened. For many of us, panic attacks are rare. If they happened to us we experience them only a few times, maybe once in life if at all. When these episodes occur more often, or on a consistent basis, we might be suffering from a true panic disorder. Panic attacks and panic disorder are different. It is important to understand why.
Before we look at the details of panic attacks – causes, symptoms etc. – we might want to know a little more about panic disorder so that we can separate this from an occasional, even rare panic attack.
Both may be caused by the stress of a particular situation, but panic disorder is generally viewed as a serious health condition that must be dealt with in a different way. A key factor in the disorder might be in our genes, part of our family’s history. This may not be the case with a random panic attack.
This genetic link may cause troublesome situations on a reoccurring basis, to the point that the condition seriously affects our ability to work, play and interact socially. Thus, we should devote more time and effort to understanding the panic disorder as a potentially life-threatening malady.
Panic attacks may mean the onset of rapid heart rate, tightening of the throat/choking or even an uncomfortable tingle in the hands and feet. According to information from the highly respected Mayo Clinic staff panic attacks might be indicated by breathing difficulty, nausea and dizziness, however temporary. If you experience unusual sweating or trembling in the hands, or feel chills out of proportion to the temperature or situation, you may be experiencing such an attack.
When diagnosing a panic attack, medical personnel put emphasis on the sudden onset of the symptoms. An episode will usually peak in a few minutes and last 30 minutes or less, according to Mayo Clinic research. In some cases the physical and mental symptoms might continue for an hour or more, though this is viewed as rare.
Many individuals report that the feelings of helplessness and impending trouble have little basis in real physical problems. They do report that one of the real fears is a fear of having another attack! In fact, people have panic attacks while they are sleeping and they wake up in a state of fear and stress.
When people struggle through a panic attack the episode is sometimes followed by suicidal thoughts or uncharacteristic drug or alcohol use. One characteristic of this sudden and rare condition is emotions and responses that are out of proportion to the reality of the situation.