- Mental Health»
- Anxiety Disorders
How not to be afraid of panic attacks
Panic attacks are characterized by pain or tightness of the chest, increased heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, pins and needles, dizziness and dryness of the mouth. Indeed, to the sufferer, these symptoms mimic those of a heart attack or stroke and are consequently very frightening.. Sufferers often feel claustrophobic and are afraid of fainting during the panic attack. The fear that accompanies a panic attack exacerbates the symptoms of it. Adrenaline levels are increased because of this fear, further adding to the discomfort.
There are two types of panic attacks i.e. those that occur as separate events and those that are symptomatic of a more general, underlying anxiety disorder. A doctor’s examination of a patient presenting with a panic attack first has to rule out that there is not a physical condition responsible for the symptoms such as, for example, a genuine heart problem. This is not an easy judgment to make in these circumstances and a visit to the local Accident and Emergency Unit may be necessary to confirm or outrule a physical cause for the presenting symptoms.
There are four factors which may make the diagnosis of panic attack easier:
1. Do the symptoms occur when the patent is at rest and when their mind is not occupied? Busy people have fewer panic attacks.
2. Are the symptoms of sudden onset? This is a feature of panic attacks in younger, fit individuals but may be not so useful when the patient is older and has other health issues.
3. If there is a family history of sudden death from heart attack or stroke, the sufferer may subconsciously fear that they are at risk and the symptoms of a panic attack may result.
4. Panic attacks are more common if the sufferer has a history of depression or anxiety disorder. Insomnia, frequent fatigue and an inability to relax are also common.
When it is confirmed that the presenting symptoms are not those of a heart attack or stroke, the patient often becomes embarrassed or ashamed because panic attacks are associated with mental illness. Indeed the underlying nature of panic attacks is often similar to that of depression and anxiety disorders. Medications used to treat all three are also similar.
Because the causes of panic attacks are so individual and many there is no one particular treatment prescribed for them. Hence, treatment has to be tailored to the needs of the particular individual. Hyperventilating is one of the primary symptoms to get under control before talking to a patient. Often, asking the sufferer to blow into a paper bag may immediately give some relief. Relaxation therapies, for example, yoga can have a beneficial, long-term effect in the management of panic attacks. Medication and psychotherapy also have a part to play in the management of this debilitating condition.