What Are Anxiety Attacks?
An anxiety attack is different from a panic attack, which comes on suddenly and involves intense feelings of fear or an impending sense of doom that lasts for a short time, usually only a few minutes.
What Are Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks?
Symptoms and signs of an anxiety attack usually have a gradual onset. People who have anxiety attacks may have a low level of anxiety as a baseline that can intensify with certain triggers.
Symptoms and signs of an anxiety attack include:
- Feeling of overwhelming panic
- Excessive worry
- Feeling on edge
- Trembling or shaking
- Muscle tension or muscle twitches
- Easy fatigability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Problems sleeping (insomnia)
- Being easily startled
- Increased heart rate
- Pounding heart
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Urge to urinate
- Feeling lightheaded
- Feeling detached from reality
- Fear of dying
What Causes Anxiety Attacks?
Anxiety attacks may be caused by:
- Environmental factors such as early childhood trauma
- Underlying medical conditions
- Use of certain substances, such as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, herbal supplements, and illegal drugs
Anxiety attacks may occur due to certain triggers, such as:
- Relationship problems
- Loss of a loved one, pet, job, or other loss
- Heart problems
- Medication side effects
- Low levels of oxygen from high altitudes, lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema), or a pulmonary embolism (PE)
How Are Anxiety Attacks Diagnosed?
Anxiety disorders may be diagnosed with a psychological evaluation. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, provides diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder.
Lab studies to help diagnose or exclude medical conditions that may cause anxiety disorders and anxiety attacks include:
- Electroencephalography (EEG)
- Lumbar puncture
- Brain computed tomography (CT) scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain
- Neurologic consultation
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
Tests to rule out heart conditions that can cause anxiety disorders and anxiety attacks include:
- Electrocardiography (ECG)
- Treadmill ECG
What Is the Treatment for Anxiety Attacks?
Treatment for anxiety attacks often involves of a combination of medication and/or psychotherapy.
Therapies used to treat anxiety disorders and anxiety attacks include:
- Behavioral therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Interpersonal psychotherapy
- Relaxation therapy
- Supportive psychotherapy
- Mindfulness therapy
- Computerized CBT (FearFighter)
- Psychodynamic therapy
Medications used to treat anxiety disorders and prevent anxiety attacks include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as paroxetine (Paxil), escitalopram (Lexapro), sertraline (Zoloft), fluoxetine (Prozac), fluvoxamine (Luvox), and citalopram (Celexa)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as venlafaxine (Effexor and Effexor XR) and duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- Atypical antidepressants such as nefazodone (Serzone), mirtazapine (Remeron), and trazodone (Desyrel)
- Tricyclic antidepressants such as imipramine (Tofranil) and clomipramine (Anafranil)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) such as phenelzine (Nardil), selegiline (Emsam), tranylcypromine (Parnate), and isocarboxazid (Marplan)
- Benzodiazepines, such as lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), and alprazolam (Xanax)
- Often used in emergency situations
- Anti-anxiety drugs such as buspirone (BuSpar)
- Anticonvulsants such as pregabalin (Lyrica), divalproex (Depakote), and gabapentin (Neurontin)
- Antihypertensive drugs such as clonidine (Catapres), propranolol (Inderal, Betachron E-R, InnoPran XL), nadolol (Corgard), and atenolol (Tenormin)
Other treatments used for anxiety disorders and anxiety attacks include:
- Cranial electrotherapy stimulator (CES)
Hospitalization may be indicated to treat severe anxiety attacks, in the following circumstances:
- Severe functional impairment (cannot meet own daily needs)
- Suicide or homicide risk
- Deficits in social skills
Dietary changes that may help prevent or treat anxiety attacks include: