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"Panic Attacks" An Overview

Updated on February 16, 2014

Defining a Panic Attack

"Panic Attack" - a period of intense, often temporarily disabling sense of extreme fear and/or psychological distress, typically of abrupt onset. (Panic Attack, 2014)

There are various definitions of panic attack, however, the aforementioned seems to be the most complete and accurate. An individual that experiences such an onset, generally feel symptoms that can be very intense and terrifying and the body goes through what is commonly referenced as a "fight or flight" response. When the episode subsides, it can leave the individual feeling extremely drained of energy. There are many possible symptoms that can occur when having such an episode and can vary from episode to episode, as well from individual to individual. The most common symptoms include the following:

Sense of impending doom or danger, rapid heart rate, fear of the loss of control or death, trembling, shortness of breath, hyperventilation, hot flashes or chills, abdomen discomfort, chest pain, dizziness, faintness and possible nausea.

Panic attacks, although can make an individual feel some or all the mentioned symptoms, are generally non-life threatening. However, since the symptoms such as chest pains and shortened breath sensations are present, it is always good to follow up with a doctor (especially for those who have never experienced an episode or only experienced one a few times).

So what is the cause of a "Panic Attack"?

A panic attack occurs when there is a release of adrenaline from the adrenaline glands into the bloodstream. Adrenaline glands above the kidney's release adrenaline into the bloodstream when a message of fear or danger is present. One might experience this sensation while driving down a roadway; and then if someone were to run out in front of your car, forcing you to slam on the brakes in fright. It can happen very quickly and can cause pure panic. The adrenaline is pumped through the body until it is fully adrenalized. However, the glands will continue to produce the adrenaline until the fear message has ended. A panic attack is where this happens for no apparent reason and can continue as long as the glands continue to produce the adrenaline. Release of the adrenaline into the bloodstream is what allows one to misinterpret the symptoms as those of a heart attack and/or other serious physical conditions. Although research in this area is great, there is no defined attributes to these episodes, however it is thought that genetics, extreme stress, major life changes (both good and bad), death of loved one and traumatic events could all be possible attributes.

What are treatments for panic attacks?

There are many treatments in regards to anxiety and panic attacks. Often treatment is treated case by case. Our bodies are all different as well as our lifestyles, thus treatments vary for every individual. Not everyone that experiences a panic attack will have multiple episodes and others will have them chronically. For an immediate relief from an episode there are medications that doctors will prescribe and these medications may be the only treatment used for an individual with an isolated attack. Others, may need both immediate and long term medications such as an anti-depressant that helps reduce anxiety which an individual may experience on a frequent basis.

Medications are not the only treatments used in regard to panic attacks or panic disorders. Doctors and psychotherapists both recommend individuals use other techniques to help manage these attacks. Breathing exercises (learning to breathe deeply) in order to start the relaxation process are very important especially if the individual experiences episodes frequently. Coping skills like learning to focus on something positive or happy also help reduce the duration of the attack. Because the symptoms of the attack can be so severe, for an individual that is not familiar with such techniques it can be difficult at first to concentrate on these, however, try to stay focused on something positive and breathe deeply. Acceptance is a major factor in helping control these attacks as well. It is important for an individual to realize that it is a panic attack and that they are not dying, this along with breathing and other coping skills can help greatly. The important thing is to communicate and work with the doctor and find a treatment that works.

This article has defined what a panic attack is and different treatments used to control panic attacks both immediate and long term. If you suffer from panic attacks you're not alone. Consult with your doctor and find the treatment that works best for you! There are a lot of individuals that experience panic attacks, in fact almost everyone experiences one or two in his/her lifetime. However, for those who have them more frequently, acceptance, understanding and working to gain control over the disorder is the key to living a much more free and happy lifestyle.

Works Cited

Panic Attack. (2014, January 1). Retrieved February 15, 2014, from Science Daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/articles/p/panic_attack.htm

© 2014 John C. Evenstar

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