It comes without warning. You are going about a normal day and suddenly you feel that something horrible is about to happen. Your skin sweats, your heart pounds, your chest hurts and it’s hard to breathe. Everyone seems to be looking at you as if you have gone crazy. You are not going crazy. You are having a panic attack. What is a Panic Disorder?
Most people have at least one panic attack in their lifetimes. Panic attacks can be caused by a variety of reasons. However, panic attacks that seem to have no cause or reason is because of panic attack disorder, also called panic disorder. If you have panic attacks, you’re not alone. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NAMI) about 6 million Americans suffer from panic disorder symptoms
Physical Panic Disorder Symptoms
People experience a wide variety of physical symptoms when experiencing a panic attack. Here are some of the most common symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms usually last several minutes, although it may seem a lot longer to the poor person having the panic attack
- Elevated heart rate
- Tightness in the chest
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry mouth
- Nausea that may or may not be accompanied by vomiting
- Sweating all over on just on a couple parts of the body like the palms
- Uncontrollable trembling
- Widened eyes
- Feeling faint or actually fainting
- Sudden uncontrollable chills
- Cramps in the abdomen
- Hot flashes or feeling incredibly hot all over very quickly.
People suffering from panic attacks may show peculiar symptoms that they are not aware of, like stammering, facial twitching or pressing their hands to their cheeks. Caretakers of people with panic disorder need to learn these symptoms in order to better help the people that they are caring for.
Mental Panic Disorder Symptoms
Panic attacks usually do not just produce physical symptoms. They also produce mental symptoms. These symptoms can intensify as the physical symptoms worsen. It’s hard to convince a person they are having a panic attack when they are under attack from strong physical and mental symptoms.
Common mental symptoms include but are not restricted to:
- Absolute certainty that something terrible is about to happen
- Racing thoughts
- Inability to concentrate or take in new information
- Certainly that they are going irrevocably insane
- Certainty that they are going to die
- Inability to speak.
The Importance of a Proper Diagnosis
If you suffer from the physical and mental symptoms described above, this means that you have panic disorder, right? Wrong. There are other reasons for experiencing sudden panic attacks other than panic disorder. Never try to self-diagnose a physical or mental condition. This leads you down the path of wrong treatments. Those treatments can be more dangerous than the panic attacks.
Panic attacks can sometimes be a symptom of a neurological episode like a migraine or a seizure. The panic attack may serve as a warning that a seizure or migraine is immanent. Panic attacks can also be a symptom caused by a new medication or herbal supplement. This usually means that your body and the new medication are not going to get along. Always contact your doctor if you develop strange symptoms like panic attacks when taking a new medication.
A Proper Diagnosis
It can be difficult to get a positive diagnosis for panic disorder simply because there is no definitive medical test available. A doctor or mental health professional arrives at a diagnosis from:
- Ruling out other medical problems like epilepsy
- Ruling out drug abuse or alcoholism
- Listening to the patient describe his or her symptoms
- If possible, actually witnessing the patient have a panic attack.
If you or a loved one has never had a panic attack before, your doctor may insist on you or loved one going to the emergency room. It’s best to go the emergency room for tests rather than just assume that you or your loved one is having a panic attack.
Although most commonly seen in adults, panic disorder can also happen to young children and teens. The mental and physical panic disorder symptoms are the same as for an adult. Children from all backgrounds, classes and ethnicities can get childhood panic disorder.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, children need to have at least two panic attacks and about 30 days of worry about having another attack or of becoming insane before a doctor or mental health professional is comfortable giving a diagnosis of panic disorder.
The long-term diagnosis for panic disorder is very good as long as the patient keeps taking medication and has cognitive behavioral therapy. Panic disorder does not go away on its own. It can get worse if left untreated. For example, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America notes that people with panic disorder are prone to develop agoraphobia, or fear of specific places. People can become afraid of going to any place where they have suffered a panic attack.
People with panic disorder can lead productive and fulfilling lives. They can raise families and hold down jobs. There are many celebrities that struggle with panic attacks, notes ABC News. They include the British singers George Michael and Adele, country music star LeAnn Rimes, and the actresses Emma Stone and Kim Basinger.
Should the Kids be Told?
Many parents with panic disorder try to hide their condition from their children. Unless the child is incredibly young, it is a good idea to let your kids know about your health. Explain what the condition is and that it is treatable, but not incurable. Also let them know that they are not destined to experience panic, attacks, too.
Older kids can help their parents or parent identify and recognize symptoms. Kids can also help parents remember to take their medications. Kids can also phone the doctor or therapist should the parent be unable to speak or will not calm down unless a medical professional is contacted.
Treatment of panic disorder is often a combination of medication and therapy. You may not need to have therapy or take medication for the rest of your life as long as your symptoms are under control. Medications include:
- Benzodiazepines like alprazolam (Xanax.) These may be given only for a brief time since they are habit-forming. As the body adjusts to benzodiazepines, it needs a larger and larger dose in order to get the same benefits. Talk to your doctor if you want to stop or cut down on these medications because they can have powerful withdrawal symptoms.
- Antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac.) These can cause side effects but usually the body adjusts within two weeks. It can take a couple of months before you feel any benefit from antidepressants. Call your doctor right away if your panic symptoms worsen.
Never take anyone else’s medication, even if they are a close relation. Everyone reacts differently to medications, especially to antidepressants. Make sure your doctor or therapist knows what medications you are already taking so that they do not clash with a new medication. Some patients carry a list of their medications in their wallet or something that they carry on them at all times to help doctors and medical staff help them.
When it comes to managing panic attacks, knowledge is power. Therapy helps you quickly determine a panic attack from a real event that you should worry about. Some people need therapy all of their lives while some may only need a few sessions.
It’s good to read all you can about panic disorder to see that you are not hopeless. There are many support groups online and that meet in person devoted to anxiety disorders. This is a great way to get tips and be inspired.
There’s nothing like experiencing a panic attack to make you feel completely helpless. However you are not helpless. There are many things a person with panic disorder can do to help lessen the hold a panic attack can have over you, such as:
- Quitting smoking. This helps you breathe better, have more energy and improves your circulation, which helps your medication work at its best.
- Cutting down on caffeine: Everyone knows that caffeine can make you jittery. Did you know that many over the counter medications contain caffeine? Check the ingredients label of your over the counter painkillers, cough syrups, diet pills or other medications to see if they contain caffeine and talk to your doctor about switching to another medication.
- Breathe deeply when panic hits: Some symptoms of panic attacks get worse if you do not have enough oxygen. Taking deep breaths can help limit symptoms like dizziness, confusion and chest pain.
Another problem is getting doctors to listen to you when you have strange pains and you know that you are not having a panic attack. Tell them how a new medical problem differs from a panic attack and you will at least get their attention.