A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety. Panic attacks have lots of physical symptoms such as dizziness, racing heartbeat, and feeling faint.
These symptoms are not dangerous but are very frightening. They can make you feel as if you are having a heart attack or that you are going to pass out.
Most panic attacks are over in a few minutes but regular panic attacks can affect your daily life. It is sometimes necessary to see a GP.
Main symptoms of panic attacks:
There are a number of physical and mental symptoms of a panic attack. The main ones are:
- a racing heartbeat
- feeling faint
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- hot flushes
- shaky limbs
- a choking sensation
- numbness or pins and needles
- dry mouth
- a need to go to the toilet
- ringing in your ears
- a feeling of dread or a fear of dying
- a churning stomach
- a tingling in your fingers
- feeling like you're not connected to your body
How long do panic attacks last?
Most panic attacks last between five and 20 minutes. Some have been reported to last up to an hour.
What can I do if I’m having a panic attack?
One of the best ways to ease the symptoms of a panic attack is to use breathing exercises. You should breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose then out slowly and deeply through your mouth. Some people find it helpful to count steadily from one to five when breathing in and then out. You could also close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
To help reduce the regularity of panic attacks, you can make some lifestyle changes. The NHS recommends the following:
- daily breathing exercises
- regular exercise, especially exercise that raises your heart rate
- eat regular meals
- avoid caffeine, alcohol, and smoking
Should I see a doctor?
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder where you regularly have sudden attacks of panic or fear. You should see a GP if you've been experiencing symptoms of panic disorder including panic attacks. They'll ask you to describe your symptoms, how often you get them, and how long you have had them.
They may also carry out a physical examination to rule out other conditions that could be causing your symptoms. You may be diagnosed with panic disorder if you have regular and unexpected panic attacks followed by at least a month of continuous worry or concern about having further attacks.
Are there treatments for panic attacks?
Like other anxiety and stress disorders you can self-refer yourself for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This is a type of talking therapy designed to help you cope with your symptoms. You can also see your GP who can refer you.
You could find a private therapist if you feel you need more specialist help with panic attacks or more personalised therapy. A therapist can teach you ways of helping yourself during a panic attack and discuss any underlying issues which may be affecting your mental health.
If your doctor thinks it is helpful you could be prescribed a type of antidepressant called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Another possible medication is certain types of anti-epilepsy medication, which is used to treat severe anxiety.