Panic attacks & panic disorder: Symptoms, causes, treatment
What are panic attacks?
Panic attacks are frightening episodes where a person is overwhelmed by fear, stress or anxiety.
Panic attacks are the main symptoms of panic disorder.
What are the symptoms of a panic attack?
Panic attacks tend to last around 5-20 minutes - but may last as long as an hour.
Some people get panic attacks several times a week, while others may get them less often.
Psychological symptoms of a panic attack include:
- Feeling of dread
- Feel like you are about to die
- Detached feeling, unreal experiences
- Feeling disorientated
- Fear of the next panic attack happening.
Physical symptoms can include:
Seek medical advice for symptoms of panic attacks and panic disorder.
What causes panic attacks?
It isn't always known why a person develops panic disorder or has panic attacks.
Doctors believe a combination of factors may play a role, including:
- Past traumatic experiences, life events - such as the death of a partner
- Inherited tendencies or genes, such as a close relative experiencing panic attacks
- Brain chemical changes (neurotransmitters)
- Sensitivity to carbon monoxide
- Over-focussing on small physical symptoms and believing they may be far more serious - called catastrophic thinking.
Triggers for a person's panic attacks will depend on individual fears and circumstances, such as a fear of enclosed spaces.
How is panic disorder diagnosed?
Panic disorder will be diagnosed based on a person's symptoms - including panic attacks. However, experiencing panic attacks doesn't always mean a person has panic disorder.
A doctor will also look at a person's medical history, carry out a physical examination - and may arrange tests to rule out any medical causes of symptoms, such as thyroid problems.
A referral may be made to a mental health professional to confirm the diagnosis and to plan any treatment.
A person diagnosed with panic disorder has to let the DVLA know as it can affect driving safety.
What are the treatments for panic attacks?
Treatment for panic attacks include self-help techniques and treatment through a GP or mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.