Panic Attacks Overview
Panic attacks are frightening but fortunately physically
harmless episodes. They can occur at random or after a person is exposed to various events that may "trigger" a panic attack. They peak in intensity very rapidly and go away with or without medical help.
- People experiencing panic attacks may fear they are dying or that they are suffocating. They may have chest pain or believe that they are having other symptoms of a heart attack. They may voice fears that they are "going crazy" and seek to remove themselves from whatever situation they may be in.
Some people may experience other associated physical symptoms. For example, they may begin breathing very rapidly and complain that they have palpitations, in that their "hearts are jumping around in their chest." Then, within about an hour, the symptoms fade away.
- About 5% of the population will experience panic
attacks during their lifetimes. People who have repeated attacks require
further evaluation from a mental-health professional. Panic attacks can
indicate the presence of panic disorder, depression, or other forms of anxiety-based illnesses.
- Panic attacks may be symptoms of an anxiety disorder and affect at least 20% of adult Americans, or about 60 million people. Other facts about panic include that about 3 million people in the United States will have full-blown panic disorder at some time in their lives, usually beginning between 15-19 years
of age. Panic attacks occur suddenly and often unexpectedly, are unprovoked, and can be disabling.
- Once someone has had a panic attack, he or she may develop irrational fears, called phobias, about the situations they are in during the attacks and begin to avoid them. That, in turn, may reach the point where the mere idea of doing things that preceded the first panic attack triggers terror or dread of future panic attacks, resulting in the individual with panic disorder being unable to drive or even step out of the house. If this occurs, the person is considered to have panic disorder with agoraphobia.
- Panic disorder in adolescents tends to show similar symptoms as in adults. Teens tend to feel like they are not real, as if they are operating in a dreamlike state (derealization),
or be frightened of going crazy or of dying.
- The disorder in younger children is less likely to have the symptoms that involve ways of thinking (cognitive symptoms). For example, panic attacks in children may result in the child's grades declining, decreased school attendance, and avoiding that and other separations from their parents. Both children and teens with panic disorder are further at risk for developing substance abuse and depression as well as suicidal thoughts, plans, and/or actions.
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