After a panic attack has occurred, many times a visit to the emergency room follows to ensure that a heart attack, stroke, or some other serious ailment has not just happened. After every test possible, the doctor comes up with a diagnosis. He tells you that all of your tests have come back negative and what you are experiencing is normal and harmless. He explains that you are experiencing panic attacks. The doctor prescribes medicine, a follow up checkup with your general practitioner, and then sends you on your way. As the doctor is explaining this, thoughts are racing through your mind. How can this be normal and harmless? The doctor just cannot be right. He has to be missing something. After leaving the hospital and feeling as if the doctor has completely misdiagnosed your situation, you have decided to take it upon yourself to grasp what this new diagnosis means.

Grasping the fact that the diagnosis of panic attacks is correct is the first step to conquering them. According to The Lancet, panic attacks are sudden, sometimes unexpected paroxysmal bursts of severe anxiety accompanied by several physical symptoms. (eg. Cardio respiratory, otoneurological, gastrointestinal, or autonomic) Such attacks are often striking in their initial presentation, affect the individual’s function, and could be progressive and disabling, especially if accompanied by agoraphobia (an extreme form of phobic avoidance). (Roy-Byrne & Steine, 2006) In other words, panic attacks are caused from a build up of stress and anxiety, which led you to feel sensations in many areas of your body. You then experience the Fight-or-Flight response.

What does Fight-or-Flight response mean? When your body senses danger, your adrenalin will kick in. This usually occurs when you feel fear that something might happen or is happening. The Fight-or-Flight response is discussed in more detail in our next article. These sensations lead us to believe that they are symptoms of some type of serious underlying illness, or that we are experiencing a major health risk.

Many individuals that have encountered these dreadful panic attacks feel as if they are losing control and worse yet, going crazy. The fear that is caused by these sensations leads us into being apprehensive about going out into the public. These attacks affect our sleep. We tend to constantly need to sleep in order to escape from the attacks because it is on our mind from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep. The bad news is that you can experience a panic attack even in your sleep! The good news is that there are treatments and remedies that you can take to overcome these attacks.

It is a common fact that women experience panic attacks more than men. However, both can be subjected to it. Whether male or female, the attacks are very distressful. At some point in their lifetime, millions will experience these distressful attacks and will be searching for answers like you. Now that you know what panic attacks are, you should learn what the symptoms (sensations) are so you can identify them next time with your panic attack. Grasping panic attacks is your first step to recovery!

Reference: Roy-Byrne, P., Craske, M., & Stein, M. (2006, September 16). Panic disorder. Lancet, 368(9540), 1023-1032. Retrieved November 12, 2007, from Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection database.

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