"All of a sudden, I felt afraid and feared that something bad was going to happen to me as if I was going to die for no reason at all. I was having chest pain, my heart was beating faster and I had difficulty in breathing, I felt giddy and thought I was going to die." I immediately wanted to go to the hospital-emergency. From then on, I was afraid to be alone or was afraid of travelling. I started avoiding places, food, rooms or even travel after that attack.

Medical professionals generally attempt to reassure the panic attack patient that he or she is not in great danger. But these efforts at reassurance can sometimes add to the patient's difficulties: If the doctors use expressions such as "nothing serious," "all in your head," or "nothing to worry about," this may give the incorrect impression that there is no real problem. The actual problem is in the panic area in the brain. The nerves in this area are dysfunctional. Its is like going to a doctor for cough and all the doctor says is "don’t cough" which sounds ridiculous. Anxiety and worry is what the patient has. That requires diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Not by saying "relax" or "Don't Worry".

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF A PANIC ATTACK?

As described above, the symptoms of a panic attack appear suddenly, without any apparent cause. They may include

  • Racing or pounding heartbeat
  • Chest pains
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Dizziness, light headedness, nausea
  • Difficulty in breathing, a sense of feeling smothered
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands
  • Flushes or chills
  • Dreamlike sensations or perceptual distortions
  • Terror: a sense that something unimaginably horrible is about to occur and one is powerless to prevent it
  • Fear of losing control and doing something embarrassing
  • Fear of dying

A panic attack typically lasts for several minutes and is one of the most distressing conditions that a person can experience. Most who have one attack will have others. When someone has repeated attacks, or feels severe anxiety about having another attack, he or she is said to have panic disorder.

Panic attacks can occur at any time, even during sleep. An attack generally peaks within 10 minutes, but some symptoms may last much longer.
Once someone has had a panic attack, for example, while driving, shopping in a crowded store, or riding in an elevator, he or she may develop irrational fears, called phobias, about these situations and begin to avoid them. Eventually, the pattern of avoidance and level of anxiety about another attack may reach the point where the individual with panic disorder may be unable to drive or even step out of the house. At this stage, the person is said to have panic disorder with agoraphobia. Thus, panic disorder can have as serious an impact on a person's daily life as other major illnesses, unless the individual receives effective treatment.

No, panic attacks are never life threatening. But yes, panic attacks are real and emotionally disabling, but they can be controlled with specific treatments. Because of the disturbing symptoms that accompany panic attacks, they may be mistaken for heart disease or some other life-threatening medical illness. People frequently go to hospital emergency rooms when they are having a panic attack, and extensive medical tests may be performed to rule out these other conditions.

CAN PEOPLE WITH PANIC DISORDER LEAD NORMAL LIVES?

The answer to this is a resounding YES -- if they receive treatment.
Panic disorder is highly treatable, with a variety of available therapies. These treatments are extremely effective. Once treated, panic disorder doesn't lead to any permanent complications.

COMPLICATIONS OF UNTREATED ILLNESS

A recent study showed that people who suffer from panic disorder:

  • Are more prone to alcohol and other drug abuse
  • Have greater risk of attempting suicide
  • Spend more time in hospital emergency rooms
  • Spend less time on hobbies, sports and other satisfying activities
  • Tend to be financially dependent on others
  • Report feeling emotionally and physically less healthy than non-sufferers
  • Are afraid of going more than a few miles away from home