By Dr Sandeep Vohra
What exactly are panic attacks?
A panic attack occurs because of sudden, brief feelings of fear and strong physical reactions in response to ordinary, non-threatening situations. These can include a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling and muscle tension. Panic attacks occur frequently and unexpectedly and are often not related to any external threat. They also occur in people with other psychiatric disorders (such as depression). Some panic attacks occur in response to a specific situation.
Who is susceptible to panic attacks?
The age of onset for panic attacks is frequently observed between late adolescence and early adulthood. Even though panic attacks typically develop between the ages of 18 and 35 years, it is still possible to occur any time throughout the lifespan.
Panic attacks are nearly two times more common in women than in men. Women are also more likely to have it with agoraphobia. It is most likely to appear in those 20-29 years old. But, it can start as early as the teen years or as late as 30 to 40 years old.
What are the triggers?
Panic attacks are often a very frightening experience. They are not life-threatening. However, they can damage one’s quality of life and cause excessive stress. Panic attacks can have many triggers, including:
*A traumatic situation
*Dramatic life changes
When should one seek medical attention in a panic attack?
Panic attacks typically begin suddenly, without warning. The fear of having another panic attack can interfere with the normal functioning of life. It may cause the person to avoid events or places, and /or isolate from people. They can strike at any time—when driving a car, while asleep or in the middle of a business meeting. Panic attacks have many variations, but symptoms usually peak within minutes. It can cause rapid pounding heart rate, sweating, shortness of breath or tightness in the throat, hot flashes, nausea, dizziness, etc. It can be so severe that the patient feels as if he/she is going to die leading to immediate rushing to nearest hospital though many people who have panic attacks don’t seek medical care because of embarrassment. They fear seeking medical attention or fear taking medicine. However, it is very important to seek medical care and discuss your problem with the doctor. After being evaluated, the doctor /psychiatrist will be able to tell the cause of panic attacks.
What lifestyle changes benefit such patients?
Making lifestyle changes will help to control problems that can lead to panic attacks.
A) Make habits healthy
It is important to avoid…
*Caffeine, which is found in coffee, tea, chocolate and soft drinks and more
*Limit the consumption of alcohol to minimum possible or no alcohol at all
*Avoid consuming certain prescription medicines which may cause panic
B) Get plenty of rest: Sleep is important for maintaining overall health. A good night’s sleep can decrease the stress levels and minimise the chance of panic attack.
D) Get regular exercise: Exercise has many benefits. A regular routine will help to reduce stress and manage panic attacks
Are alternative therapies beneficial?
In complementary or alternative treatments to psychotherapy and/or medication your doctor psychiatrist may prescribe several natural methods and herbal remedies for panic attacks.
Exercising regularly and practice relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga to relieve anxiety panic disorder. The routine should include cardiovascular exercise, which burns lactic acid, produces mood-enhancing chemicals called endorphins, and causes the body to use oxygen more efficiently. Controlled breathing techniques can also help ease a panic attack.
(Dr Sandeep Vohra is a senior consultant, mental health and psychiatry, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi)