The panic attack is an anxiety disorder that arises in a state of calm or, on the contrary, of full-blown stress and is characterized by a sudden increase in fear and physical and mental discomfort. More and more often we also find ourselves reading in the newspapers of famous people who reveal that they suffer from it.

There are about 10 million Italians who have experienced a panic attack at least once. In one out of two cases it becomes a real disease. Over 2 million people have developed full-blown panic disorder with repetitive attacks, anxiety and phobias

What are the symptoms of panic attack?

The sudden rush of adrenaline that hits our body causes various physical and emotional reactions such as:

  • tachycardia,
  • dizziness and dizziness,
  • feeling of suffocation and paralysis,
  • leg tremor,
  • sweating,
  • chest pain,
  • nausea,
  • need to run to the bathroom,
  • perceptual effects of depersonalization,
  • fear of dying.

Why does the panic attack come?

The panic attack can arise following a traumatic event experienced on one’s skin or it can be unmotivated.

In the first case, the person begins to suffer from this anxiety disorder after having suffered a more or less serious trauma. For example, many of those who were aboard the cruise Concordia during the sinking began to experience problems with insomnia, flashbacks of that episode and panic attacks, mostly arising in situations reminiscent of those experienced during the tragedy.

In the second case, however, these attacks can occur for no apparent reason. In conjunction with imminent changes or goals that can “disrupt” one’s balance (coming of age, graduation, entering the world of work, leaving the family home, living together, marriage, procreation), moments of great stress, unconscious fears (closed or crowded places, dizziness

When to see a doctor?

If a person is having a panic attack but not living in control and anxiety, it may be just a temporary episode. In this case, a doctor’s intervention may not be necessary. Conversely, if you live with a feeling of continuous threat, avoid relationships, wake up at night with tachycardia and agitation, perhaps it would really be appropriate to contact a psychotherapist.

How to deal with a panic attack? In the video interview with Enrico Smeraldi, Professor of Psychiatry at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University.

The professor emeritus also explains how to recognize panic attacks

EMDR: a new therapeutic approach

L‘EMDR (from English Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, i.e. desensitization and reprocessing through eye movements) is a brand new scientifically accredited therapeutic approach, used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. This method, which is based on stimulation through eye movements, makes it possible to “move” the distressing and painful memory of the trauma from the frontal cortex, where it has remained emotionally active up to now, to the parietal cortex, where it will be stored among the events of the past, no longer arouse fear and anxiety. At the end of this journey, the person who has faced his ghosts finally takes his life back in hand, with a clear and serene mind.


For the treatment of anxiety disorders, there are also drugs that can increase the levels of serotonin (the feel-good hormone) in some brain areas, prolonging their activity. In this case, good results can be obtained with serotonergic antidepressants (SSRIs), prescribed after careful evaluation by the specialist.

Breathing and relaxation

It is essential to learn to breathe correctly, preferably with the diaphragm, to rebalance the levels of adrenaline and serotonin in the central nervous system» confirms Vinciguerra. People affected by panic attacks should not hyperventilate, i.e. speed up breathing too much. This anomaly, often connected to states of anxiety, facilitates the onset of attacks, because it decreases the concentration of carbon dioxide in the blood, with damage to nervous activity.

Various breathing or biofeedback techniques allow to obtain good results, under the guidance of an experienced instructor. Yoga and some meditation techniques are also very useful.

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