A person with panic disorder develops anxiety attacks associated with the thought that he or she would die or develop a stroke or heart attack. Panic attacks can last from a few minutes to several hours.
It can happen anytime, anywhere. When you're alone. With others. At home. In public. Wakening you from a sound sleep. Suddenly, your heart begins to race, your face flushes and you experience shortness of breath. You feel dizzy, nauseated, out of control. Some people even feel like they're dying.
You may have experienced a panic attack - a sudden episode of intense fear that prompts physical reactions in your body. Many people, thinking they're having a heart attack, go to the emergency room. Others try to ignore the signs and symptoms, not realizing that they're experiencing a panic attack.
Although panic attacks were once dismissed as nerves or stress, they're now recognized as a potentially disabling but treatable condition.
A variety of approaches, including medications, therapy and relaxation techniques, can help you control or prevent panic attacks.
Signs and symptoms
A panic attack often begins abruptly, peaks within 10 minutes and lasts about half an hour. But panic attacks have many variations. They may last hours, even — on rare occasions — up to a day. You may feel fatigued and worn out after a panic attack subsides.
Signs and symptoms may include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath and hyperventilation
- Hot flashes
- Abdominal cramping
- Chest pain
- Tightness in your throat
- Trouble swallowing
- A sense of impending death
Other health problems — such as an impending heart attack, an overactive thyroid gland or drug withdrawal — can cause symptoms similar to panic attacks. It's not unusual for panic attacks to occur together with depression.
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