Panic attack: a serious illness or a far-fetched problem

Let’s say right away: a panic attack is not a far-fetched problem, but a serious illness. You will often come across another term such as “anxiety attack”.

“Anxiety attack is more of a colloquial term,” says C. Weil Wright, Ph.D., psychologist and director of research and special projects for the American Psychological Association. – A panic attack is an episode of intense fear that can come on suddenly and usually peaks within 10 minutes.».


A person may not be in real danger and still experience a panic attack, which is very debilitating and energy-consuming. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, typical symptoms of a panic attack are:

– Rapid heartbeat and pulse

– Profuse sweating

– Trembling

– Shortness of breath or a feeling of suffocation

– Chest pain

– Nausea or abdominal upset

– Dizziness, weakness

– Chills or fever

– Numbness and tingling of limbs

– Derization (feeling of unreality) or depersonalization (disorder of self-perception)

– Fear of losing control or going crazy

– Fear of death

What causes panic attacks?

Panic attacks can be caused by a certain dangerous object or situation, but it can also be that there is simply no reason for the disorder. It happens that when a person is faced with a panic attack in a certain situation, he begins to be afraid of a new attack and in every possible way avoids situations that can cause it. And thus he begins to experience more and more panic disorder.

“For example, people with panic disorder may notice a symptom that is quite mild, like an increased heart rate. They interpret it as negative, which makes them even more anxious, and from there it becomes a panic attack,” says Wright.

Can certain things make a person more susceptible to panic attacks?

The answer to this question is disappointing: panic attacks can happen to anyone. However, there are several factors that can put a person at risk.

According to 2016, women are twice as likely to experience anxietythan men. According to the authors of the study, this is due to differences in brain chemistry and hormones, as well as how women deal with stress. In women, the stress response activates faster than in men and stays active longer thanks to the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Women also don’t produce the neurotransmitter serotonin as quickly, which plays an important role in stress and anxiety.

Genetics can play a big role in diagnosing panic disorder. In 2013, it was discovered that people with panic attacks have a gene called NTRK3 that increases fear and reaction to it.

If a person is struggling with other mental disorders, including depression, they may also be more susceptible to panic attacks. Other anxiety disorders, such as social phobia or obsessive-compulsive disorder, have also been found to increase the risk of panic attacks.

Not only the genetic factor can play a role. The behavior and temperament of a person depends on the environment in which he grew up.

“If you grew up with a parent or family member with an anxiety disorder, you’ll also be more likely to do so,” says Wright.

Others, especially environmental stressors such as the loss of a job or the death of a loved one, can also trigger panic attacks. 

Can panic attacks be cured?

“I think panic attacks can be frightening, people can be discouraged, but there are many things that can be done to deal with them‘ Replies Wright.

First, if you are seriously concerned about any of the symptoms that you may experience during a panic attack (such as heart problems), you should see a doctor. If the doctor determines that there is in fact no heart problem, they may suggest cognitive behavioral therapy.

According to the American Psychological Association, cognitive behavioral therapy is a psychological treatment that focuses on changing thought patterns.

Your doctor may also prescribe medications, including antidepressants, which act as long-term anxiety suppressants, and fast-acting anti-tuberculosis drugs to relieve acute symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat and sweating.

Meditation, mental work, and various breathing practices also help to cope with a panic attack in the long term. If you are experiencing panic attacks (which, unfortunately, are intermittent), it is important to be aware of the fact that this disease is not fatal, and in fact, nothing threatens life itself. 

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