Panic Attacks: Causes, Effects, and Solutions
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Panic Attacks: Causes, Effects, and Solutions



According to a report from Cleveland Clinic, approximately 11 percent of Americans experience a panic attack every year. Between 2 and 3 percent of these people also go on to develop panic disorder.


There’s a lot of confusion out there about panic attacks, what causes them, and what should be done to address them. For those who are confused and want to learn more, the following questions and answers can shed some light on the issue.





What Is a Panic Attack? Is That the Same Thing as an Anxiety Attack?


Panic attacks are characterized by brief, sudden, and intense feelings of fear in response to a non-threatening situation. They’re also typically accompanied by strong physical reactions (hands shaking, difficulty catching one’s breath, etc.).


When someone worries excessively about having panic attacks, they may develop panic disorder. Panic disorder might cause them to change their behaviors or go to great lengths to avoid potentially having another panic attack.


Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack


Most people don’t know the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack. This has to do, in part, with the fact that they share a lot of similarities.


Panic attacks also are not listed in the DSM-5 (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), so they’re more open to interpretation.


Here are some key differences to keep in mind that can help people discern between a panic attack and an anxiety attack:

  • Anxiety attacks are often brought on by a stressful or threatening situation; panic attacks typically occur out of nowhere.
  • Panic attacks are more likely to be accompanied by physical symptoms (sweating, shaking, hyperventilating, etc.).
  • Anxiety and anxiety attacks can build gradually; panic attacks come on suddenly.





What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like?


Panic attack signs and symptoms occur suddenly, and they typically reach their peak within about 10 minutes. Most last between 20 and 30 minutes, and they rarely go on for more than an hour.


The following are some of the most common symptoms of a panic attack:

  • Hyperventilation
  • Racing heart rate
  • Chest pain, tightness, or discomfort
  • Shaking
  • Feeling as though they’re
  • Feeling as though they’re detached from their surroundings
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Numbness or tingling in the limbs
  • Hot flashes
  • Chills



When one is having a panic attack, they often also experience an intense fear of dying or losing control over their situation. Fast-acting anxiety medications can help stop this feeling quickly.




Are Panic Attacks Normal?


Panic attacks are somewhat common (they affect up to 11 percent of people per year, after all) and aren’t considered to be a life-threatening condition. However, they’re not normal, nor are they something that should be taken lightly.


If someone is experiencing panic attacks, they need to take steps to manage the situation and prevent it from escalating into full-blown panic disorder.


Panic attacks and panic disorder can wreak havoc on one’s mental health and quality of life. The sooner someone can seek help for their panic attacks, the better off they’ll be.



What Triggers a Panic Attack?


In most cases, panic attacks arise out of nowhere. Someone might have one in the middle of a grocery store aisle or while walking down the street.


This is one of the things that makes them different from anxiety attacks, which often occur in response to a stressful situation.


That being said, there are still some potential issues that may trigger panic attacks. According to the University of Michigan Health Center, the following can make someone more prone to having a panic attack:

  • Overactive thyroid (also known as hyperthyroidism)
  • Heart problems or breathing problems
  • Depression
  • Drug use
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Heavy nicotine or caffeine use
  • Medications, including those used to treat asthma or heart problems



The National Health Service reports that panic attacks are also common among people who struggle with phobias. Phobias are defined by the American Psychological Association as intense, persistent, and irrational fears.




How Do You Calm a Panic Attack?


The following are some popular practices that people who deal with panic attacks find helpful:

  • Deep breathing: Breathing in and slowly exhaling through the nose can slow down the heart when it starts to race
  • Closing the eyes: Closing the eyes can help to block out stimuli and makes it easier for people to focus and calm down when they’re starting to panic
  • Muscle relaxation: Slowly relaxing the muscles of the body, starting from the top and working downward (or vice versa), gives the person something else to focus on, which can help them to calm down faster



Some people also benefit from using medication to manage their panic attacks. Benzodiazepines, for example, can help those with panic disorder to stay calm and prevent a panic attack from coming on or getting worse.




Why Do People Get Panic Attacks?


There are plenty of issues that can cause someone to have a panic attack, including the conditions and situations outlined above. Panic attacks and panic disorder also appear to have a genetic component, according to a report published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science.


In other words, those who have family members who struggle with panic attacks and panic disorder may be more prone to developing them themselves.


Genetics are not a guarantee that one will or won’t have panic attacks, of course. However, this is still something worth noting, especially for those who are looking to learn as much as they can about their condition and its potential causes.


Understanding one’s family history can be helpful as they work to figure out coping mechanisms and prevent future panic attacks from happening.



For example, those who know panic disorder runs in their family can be extra cautious when it comes to consuming alcohol or using certain medications, as those may be triggers