What is a Panic Attack? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

A panic attack is a state of fearful and anxious feelings that exhibit many physical symptoms like sweating, fast breathing, and racing heart. Today, we’ll discuss what is a panic attack; its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, how to prevent it, complications, and when to see the doctor.

What is a Panic Attack? 

A panic attack is a sudden state of fearful and anxious feelings that triggers many strong physical reactions without the presence of any apparent or real danger. It frightens you, when it happens, then you feel racing heart, difficult breathing, and sweating, losing control over yourself, heart attack, or even death in worst cases.

Many people experience panic attacks a few times in their lifetime. It ends when the stressful and frightening situation goes away. However, panic disorder is when living in a constant state of fear or attack even long after the end of the panic attack. The panic attack doesn’t threaten your life, but the stressful and frightening feelings very badly impact your life.

The commonness of Panic Attack

According to an estimate, approximately 11% of US people experience panic attacks every year. Out of which, roundabout 2-3% develop panic disorder.

Who is Vulnerable to it?

Panic attacks can happen to anyone. Some factors play a significant role, and they are as follows;

  • Gender: women are usually more vulnerable to panic attacks and developing panic disorder
  • Age: it can happen to people of all ages especially children, early adult years, and teens

Symptoms of Panic Attack 

The episode of a panic attack can occur at any time without offering you any warning. When it starts happening, then you can’t stop it, and its symptoms reach the peak level within ten minutes. Some of the main symptoms and signs of a panic attack are as follows;

  • Shaking and trembling
  • Numbness and tingling feelings in your toes and fingers
  • Sweating
  • Racing heart
  • Nausea
  • Intense feelings of terror
  • Dying and death feelings
  • Losing control over yourself due to fear
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • The sensation of smothering and choking
  • Chills
  • Pain in the chest

Causes of Panic Attack 

Psychologists and professionals don’t exactly know the reason why people experience an episode of panic attacks or develop panic disorder. Our nervous system and brain play a significant role in how you perceive and deal with stress and anxiety. However, the probability of experiencing panic attacks would increase because of the following reasons;

  • Substance Abuse Problem: drug addiction and drinking alcohol amplify the probability of panic attacks
  • Mental Health Issues: people having mental health issues, depression, and anxiety disorder are more vulnerable to panic attacks
  • Family History: psychologists don’t know the reason but panic disorder and anxiety disorder run in the family.

Diagnosis of Panic Attacks 

The symptoms of panic attacks are similar to respiratory problems, thyroid problems, heart disease, or other serious health issues. Your doctor would perform various tests on you to rule out various other physical problems, and diagnose the exact problem based on the signs.

How to Diagnose the Panic Disorder

Mental health or medical professional could only make the diagnosis of panic disorder. The doctor would diagnose the panic disorder when you have been experiencing the panic attacks repetitively.

  • Behavioral change to ignore the situation that would cause the p-attacks
  • Obsessing over why you have lost control over yourself during the p-attacks
  • Worrying about getting the panic attacks or dealing with their consequences

Treatment of Panic Attacks 

The therapist would either use psychotherapy or medication, or both in combination depending on the severity of the situation in order to stop the p-attacks. The details of the treatments are as follows;


The therapist would use talk psychotherapy or CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). The patients would share their emotions and feelings with their therapist. The psychologist would help you to recognize the triggering points of the p-attacks so that you can change your reactions, behavior, and thinking. When you respond differently to the triggering points, then the disease would stop ultimately.


Medications like antidepressants lower the severity and frequency of the p-attacks. Your doctor would prescribe the following medicines depending on your conditions and symptoms;

  • Sinequan (doxepin)
  • Elavil (TCAs comprise of amitriptyline)
  • Effexor (venlafaxine)
  • Cymbalta (SNRIs comprise of duloxetine)
  • Paxil (paroxetine)
  • Prozac (SSRIs comprise of Fluoxetine)
  • TCAs (tricyclic antidepressant)
  • SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake)

Anti-anxiety Medications

Anti-anxiety medicines help you to stop and lower the p-attacks, but they can make a person addicted to them. Some of the anti-anxiety medicines are;

  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Benzodiazepines

How to Prevent Panic Attacks 

Your psychotherapist would help you to recognize the triggering points to stop the p-attacks. The therapist would teach you various managing techniques and strategies in order to prevent the attack. You can reduce the probability of getting panic attacks for the following reasons;

  • Using herbal supplements with the consultation of your therapist
  • Managing stress
  • Healthy diet and food
  • Exercising regularly
  • Lower usage of caffeine

Complications with Panic Attack 

You can treat panic attacks, but people feel embarrassed either talking about it or seeking help from the professional. When you don’t treat your panic disorder, then it limits your capability to enjoy the pleasures of life. It results in the form of the following issues;


Roundabout 2/3rd of panic disorder patients develop agoraphobia. It’s such an anxiety disorder that makes you fearful of visiting such places where the incident of panic attack happened. It becomes difficult for a person to leave the house in extreme cases.


It’s an unreasonable and extreme form of fear of any specific thing. For instance, claustrophobia is the fear of closed places, and acrophobia is the fear of heights

Anticipatory Anxiety

High stress and anxiety result when there’s a possibility of getting panic attacks.

When to Call the Doctor 

The symptoms of p-attacks and heart attacks are almost similar like lower consciousness, trouble breathing, or chest pain. You should call emergency medical care if you experience a panic attack or the following issues;

  • Trouble sleep and difficulty in sleeping
  • The prevalence of symptoms of panic attacks for more than fifteen minutes
  • Agoraphobia or fear of leaving the house
  • High level of irritability
  • Difficult to focus your attention
  • Chronic anxiety disturbs your routine life

Conclusion: What is a Panic Attack? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment 

After an in-depth study of what is a panic attack; its symptoms, causes, treatment, and when to call the doctor, we’ve realized that panic disorder is a serious mental health issue. If you diagnose the symptoms of panic disorder, then reach out to the mental health professional in your area.