Categorized | Stress

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How to Tell If You Are Having a Panic Attack

Panic attacks, also known as anxiety attacks are unexpected reactions of powerful anxiety accompanied by escalating physiological symptoms that will be discussed in further detail below. Panic attacks are associated with an array of somatic and cognitive symptoms and are essentially a response of the sympathetic nervous system. These intense physiological experiences can be brought on very quickly, and often with no apparent reason.

Why Do Panic Attacks Happen?

Though panic attacks generally appear to take place at random, they are actually a part of a natural human response commonly known as “fight or flight” that just happen to take place out of turn. Fight or flight reflexes inundate the body with hormones (including adrenaline) that are intended to help it protect itself from danger. It has been said that suffering a panic attack is one of the scariest, most distressing and uncomfortable experiences a human being can endure.

What are the Signs of an Attack?

Below is a list of the most common panic attack symptoms. Diagnostic criteria for a true attack state that at least four of the below symptoms must be experienced, that the symptoms must have been developed abruptly, and that they must have reached a peak within 10 minutes of their onset.

o Increased heart rate, intense pounding of the heart or palpitations

o Profuse perspiration

o Trembling or shaking of the body including limbs, digits, shoulders or lips

o Shortness of breath or the sensation of being smothered

o Sensation of choking

o Discomfort or pain in the chest area

o Abdominal stress, pain or nausea

o Feelings of dizziness, wobbliness, lightheadedness or weakness

o Feeling of loss of touch with reality or loss of touch with self (depersonalization)

o Feelings of loss of control or fear of going insane

o Intense fear of dying or feeling that you are dying

o Numbness or tingling throughout the body

o Waves of intense cold (chills) or heat (hot flashes)

o Intense feelings of terror or dread

How Long Does an Episode Last?

The American Psychological Association states that the symptoms of a panic attack typically last for about half an hour. It is not uncommon, however, for panic attacks to be as short as 15 minutes in duration. On the other hand, some people suffer from series of panic attacks that can go on to add up to hours at a time.

Have You Had Panic Attacks?

After reading about panic attacks, including information about symptoms and duration, you should have a pretty good idea if what you have experienced is a true panic attack. Review the list of symptoms again, and ask yourself: did what you experience include at least four of the listed signs of anxiety attacks? Also, does your episode fall within the range of duration that is deemed common for true panic attacks?

Even though you’re getting a good start on knowing what’s going on in your body by reading this, you should speak with a medical professional if you think you may be experiencing these attacks. Your doctor knows you best and will be able to properly diagnose what you are experiencing if it is indeed an anxiety attack. Your physician will also be able to recommend a course of treatment for you as well as suggest ways to prevent these episodes in the future. A qualified medical professional should also be able to advise you on what you should do in the future should you begin to experience another one of these types of attacks.

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