Panic Attack Symptoms

  • Fear of imminent death or severe medical event
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Muscle tension
  • Sweating
  • Feeling of confinement or inability to escape

Many individuals who have a panic attack present to the emergency room.  A panic attack does not generally last more than 20-30 minutes, although the after effects and anxiety that another panic attack may come can persist.

If you have had a similar experience, you should first be checked medically to ensure that you do not in fact have a medical problem that could explain your symptoms.  If you have had a medical workup and your medical professional has judged that you are physically healthy, you should consider the possibility that your symptoms are explained by a panic attack.

Panic attacks occur when the brain and body misperceive physical cues of distress and the brain responds by initiating a fear response in the body.  Panic disorder generally responds very well to psychotherapy.  Some studies estimate that better than 80% of individuals with panic disorder who seek treatment no longer have routine panic attacks.  Medication may be a quicker treatment for panic attacks, but medication has side effects and when the patient stops taking the medication, the panic attacks generally return.

Helpful Psychotherapy Techniques

  • Education about the body’s response to stress and perceived threat
  • Relaxation training
  • Learning to change negative thoughts
  • Gradually exposure to cues that in the past created panic

These techniques are often referred to as “cognitive behavioral therapy” and research predicts that these methods will be most successful in treating panic disorder and preventing panic attacks.

Although treatment for panic is very successful, unfortunately, many people with this disorder do not seek treatment.  They are embarrassed by their problem and don’t realize that psychotherapy can help.

If you or someone you know has problems with panic attacks, consider contacting a mental health professional who is skilled in cognitive behavioral therapy.  While no treatment is guaranteed to work, the success rate for cognitive behavioral therapy of panic is high.


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