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Panic Attack -- What is it?

by Vicki G. Mozo

A panic attack is a sudden surge of intense fear and anxiety. It can happen without a warning, and it can be felt even in the absence of an actual danger. 
Experiencing a panic attack can be regarded as one of the most frightening experience. Imagine when you are doing an important activity requiring undivided attention (such as driving) and suddenly you feel a sudden attack of fear. You might feel unsecured, vulnerable and in danger. Your anxieties over your well being have swiftly conquered your mind that you become less effective in what you do. It can be upsetting, especially when there is no real danger to be afraid or worried about in the first place.
Panic attacks can happen to anyone. Under normal conditions, it typically lasts for only several minutes, and then subsides. The episode is usually triggered by a fear-provoking event. This is the case of “cued or situationally-bound panic attack”, such as in an individual entering, or thinking about entering, an elevator. But as for individuals with panic disorders the attack lasts longer and may involve strings of intense fear. A typical sufferer would report on having an unexpected panic attack. This overwhelming feeling of fear can progress to feeling of helplessness, crying and distress, which can recur in cycles. This is the case of “uncued or spontaneous panic attack”.
Individuals with panic disorders can experience an attack even while they are sleeping. The specific events that trigger spontaneous panic attacks may not be clear or identified.
How can you therefore know if it was just a “normal” panic attack? Or, if you are already needing to consult your doctor?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, the common symptoms of panic attack are as follows:
shortness of breath
heart palpitations
accelerated heart rate
chest pain
hot flashes
feeling of chocking
chest pain or discomfort
feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself

When a person experiences almost all of these symptoms, a panic attack may have transpired. If panic attacks are recurring and spontaneous, that person may already be suffering from a panic disorder.

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) 2000 Washington, DC.

To cite (APA-style):
Mozo, V.G. (2013, October 13). Panic Attack, What is it?. Biology-Online.org. Retrieved from http://www.biology-online.org

Disclaimer: This article is intended to provide information and individual opinion of the author (and not of the site). Any information contained in this article should not be used to replace professional or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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