Learn more about panic attacks


Learn more about panic attacks

7 June

A panic attack is a sudden surge of overwhelming anxiety and fear. Your heart pounds and you can’t breathe. It may feel as if you are dying or going crazy. Left untreated, panic attacks can lead to panic disorder and other problems, and may eventually cause you to withdraw from your normal activities. However, panic attacks can be cured and the sooner you seek help, the better. With treatment, you can reduce or eliminate the symptoms of panic and regain control of your life.

Panic attacks often strike when you are away from home, but they can occur anywhere and at any time. You may have an attack while shopping, walking down the street, driving, or sitting on the couch in your lounge.

The signs and symptoms of a panic attack develop abruptly and usually reach their peak within ten minutes. Most panic attacks end within 20 to 30 minutes; they rarely last more than an hour.

A full-blown panic attack includes a combination of the following signs and symptoms: severe anxiety and fear, shortness of breath or hyperventilation, heart palpitations or rapid heartbeat, chest pain or discomfort, trembling or shaking, a choking feeling, feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings, sweating, nausea or upset stomach, dizziness, light-headedness, feeling faint, numbness or tingling of the body, hot or cold flashes, a feeling that you are about to die, lose control of your life or that you are losing your mind.

Causes of panic attacks and panic disorder                  

Although the exact causes of panic attacks and panic disorder are unclear, the tendency to have panic attacks runs in families. There seems to be a connection with major life transitions such as graduating from college, entering the workplace, getting married or having a baby. Severe stress, such as the death of a loved one, divorce or job loss, can also trigger panic attacks as can some medical conditions. If you are suffering from symptoms of panic, it is important to see a doctor to rule out the following possibilities:

  • mitral valve prolapse (a minor cardiac problem that occurs when one of the heart’s valves does not close correctly)
  • hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland)
  • hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar)
  • ingestion of stimulants (amphetamines, cocaine, caffeine)
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Self-help tips for panic attacks and panic disorder

Panic stations: coping with panic attacks forms part of a series of self-help workbooks and offers  strategies, exercises and activities that teach you how to manage panic attacks. (Centre for Clinical Interventions).

More information can be obtained at info.shs@up.ac.za or www.up.ac.za/student-health-services.

– Author Student Health Services

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Last edited by Ansa HeylEdit