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Panic Attacks - Symptoms and Treatments

Updated on May 17, 2013

Panic Attacks

What are panic attacks and what causes them, how can we treat them. These are some of the most common and most relevant questions that need to be answered here.

Discover if you are indeed suffering panic attacks symptoms, and some of the treatments that might help.

Not to be confused with anxiety attack; panic attacks are much more serious and debilitating.

An anxiety attack can be caused by stress, problems in your day-to-day life which can cause you to feel loss of control. You would suddenly burst into tears, or shout and scream unnecessarily, or start to 'panic' in a situation where you would normally be calm and efficient. The fact that you were panicking does not mean this was a panic attack. This is over-anxiety, or an anxiety attack, which while affecting you seriously, and making you feel very bad, is not as serious as a panic attack.

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Symptoms and Treatments

Panic attacks can be terrifying. They can cause physical symptoms that make people think they are having a heart attack, and that they may be dying.

It is not uncommon for people to have panic attacks once or twice in their lifetime, but if they occur frequently, it could be something more serious - Panic Disorder.

The symptoms of panic attacks are usually so serious that they will require an ambulance to be called. This is a good thing because one should definitely see a doctor immediately. There is always the possibility that it is in fact a heart attack, but either way the doctor should be the one to decide.

There was a time when panic attacks would be dismissed as stress-related or a nerve problem, but they are nowadays recognised as an actual medical condition. There are reliable treatments, with medication, psychotherapy, and physical relaxation exercises to help control the symptoms.

The symptoms of panic attack are many and varied:

shortness of breath



hot flushes

chills and shivers

rapid heartbeat

abnormal sweating

trembling or shuddering



stomach cramps

bad headache

chest pains

a sense of impending doom, or even of death

You may experience only one or several of these symptoms, and all will appear very suddenly, without any warning. The symptoms may only last half an hour or so, but they will make you feel extremely bad. They can last for hours, even a full day, and when they subside they leave you feeling drained, extremely fatigued.

An attack can occur instantly, and can catch you while driving, shopping, just going about your daily business.

A panic attack is such a bad experience, it will leave you with a terrible fear of recurrence. It can cause you to fear doing whatever it was you were doing when the attack occurred. It may make you afraid to drive, or worse make you afraid to go shopping or even to leave your home. This in its turn can cause agoraphobia (a fear of the outside world)

It is not clear what causes panic attacks or panic disorder, although it is thought to be possibly genetics, intense stress, or in fact problems with the physical functioning of your brain.

Imagine yourself in a life-threatening situation: you're faced with a dangerous wild animal, your car stalls on a railway line with a train approaching, for example. Your heart rate goes up, your breathing speeds up, your whole body prepares itself to confront this danger. All these feelings and reactions occur with a panic attack, but for no apparent reason.

Panic attacks can be caused by a reaction to a physical or emotional occurrence in your life; the death of a loved one, the sudden and unexpected loss of a job, or a major disruption to your lifestyle. They can also occur for no reason whatsoever, which leads researchers to believe it can be an imbalance in the brain. Because the symptoms can resemble a heart attack or other serious problems, it is imperative to see a doctor. It is better to believe you are having a heart attack and find that you were not, than to think it's 'just a panic attack' when in fact it's more serious. Added to this, believing it's 'just' a panic attack is wrong in itself, as a panic attack can be very serious.

The doctor will assess the situation, and if it is in fact panic attacks, will decide whether you need medication, or if the way to go is with a psychiatrist or psychologist.

You could be suffering a single panic attack, or panic disorder, or indeed it could really be heart problems. Another possibility is thyroid problems, which also have similar symptoms.

Frequent attacks, or avoidance of possible trigger situations, or fear of losing control and having another attack, can all point to it being panic disorder. If it's only single or infrequent panic attacks, left untreated could still lead to panic disorder.

Untreated panic attacks or panic disorder can lead to more serious complaints, as in depression, alcohol and substance abuse, phobias, and can even lead to thoughts of suicide.

Once you've seen your doctor and established that it is indeed panic attacks that you are suffering, you can help yourself with natural remedies and exercises.

Meditation and yoga, breathing exercise, can all help to control stress and anxiety, and help to calm you when you're feeling agitated.

Some herbs which have been proved useful in dealing with panic attacks are St Johns wort, lemon balm, lavender and passiflora. These are all soothing, calming herbs and can be taken in supplements bought at your health store, or the dried or fresh herbs used as an infusion. Or indeed the fresh herbs or essences, left close by so you are breathing in the perfume.

Just the perfume can be soothing, as can the smell of something familiar and soothing to you. Our sense of smell can sometimes be as useful as the sense of taste in situations like this.

Think of a perfume or aroma that is particularly pleasing to you personally, and keep it at hand. Smelling this aroma will bring back memories of something good, or remind you of previous feelings of well-being. Maybe you are soothed by the smell of baby lotions or powders, maybe a particular flower, or the perfume used by a loved one. Any of these 'well-being triggers' will help to take you from a bad situation to a more calming one.

Other useful supplements are calcium, magnesium, and the B complex vitamins. Magnesium glycinate capsules are particularly useful. So too is niacinamide (not to be confused with niacin). 500 mg of niacinamide, taken 2 to 4 times a day has proven extremely helpful in many cases.

Two more natural herbs known to be helpful in relieving symptoms are winter cherry and Siberian ginseng.

Winter cherry has a sedative effect, and helps to rebuild the nervous system, as well as the digestive system. It is particularly helpful as a sedative at bedtime.

Siberian ginseng is more of a stimulant, and more helpful when waking, as it stimulates the adrenal glands and increases mental awareness.

Things to be avoided are sugars, carbohydrates, caffeine (coffee, tea, cola etc) and chocolate. Also alcohol and drugs, as these will decrease vitamins and minerals when you most need them.

Panic attacks are often caused by a sudden drop in blood sugar, in which case you should drink some fresh fruit juice or eat a banana or some other fresh fruit. Follow this with another food that combines protein carbs and fats, helping to ensure that your blood sugar level remains normal for longer.

As with any other illness or complaint, it is necessary to establish exactly which form you are suffering from, by consulting a doctor. Once the doctor has confirmed panic attacks; symptoms and treatments are varied, and you must then decide whether you want to follow the path of pharmaceutical aid, or natural remedies, or a combination of both. Whatever you choose, just know that there is always help at hand.


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    • dianew profile image

      dianew 5 years ago from Spain

      Thanks Jmillis2006, hope your health soon improves

    • Jmillis2006 profile image

      Jmillis2006 5 years ago from North Carolina

      I have panic disorder and found this hub very useful.