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What is a panic attack?

Have you ever been thinking about something troubling and started to feel physically sick? Have you noticed your thoughts racing, and then found it difficult to breathe normally? Have you had an intense episode of anxious thoughts and body pains that caused you to faint or become immobile? If so, you might have experienced a panic attack.

What is a panic attack?

Panic attacks are usually the result of a panic disorder, or can even be common in people with generalized anxiety disorder. When you experience a panic attack, your body and mind is reacting to real or imagined fear that manifests in psychological and physical ways. Your body and mind are putting up their defenses to something troubling, stressful or even dangerous, even when there might not be a clear source for your fear. If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, you’re not alone. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that about 6 million Americans experience the effects of a panic disorder every single year.

People who suffer from panic attacks experience them in different degrees. Some people can have one panic attack due to a source of extreme stress and never experience them again. Others are so affected by panic attacks, whether it’s having them frequently or being fearful of them reoccurring, that they become unable to do things they used to not even think about twice, like leaving their home or socializing with friends.

What causes a panic attack? You can have a panic attack after experiencing or thinking about something traumatic, or one can be the result of another mental health disorder, like anxiety, PTSD or even depression. A panic attack can be the result of a triggering incident or seemingly random.

Signs of a panic attack

Do you think you or someone you know has experienced a panic attack? While everyone has experienced stress or fear on some level, panic attacks are serious episodes that can create adverse effects in your mind and body.

Racing, negative thoughts

When you experience a panic attack, you’re usually dealing with extreme feelings of anxiety, stress or fear. During the attack, you might have a strong sense of impending doom or feel like you’re losing control.

what is a panic attack

Increased heart rate

woman dealing with panic attack

As your mind starts to race, so does your heart. Many people who experience panic attacks report increased heart rate and a weighted sensation on their chest, which can make it difficult to breathe.

Changes in body temperature

One sign that you may be experiencing a panic attack is feeling unable to regulate your body temperature. Hot flashes and chills are both associated with these episodes.

signs of a panic attack

Abdominal issues

what causes panic attacks

Does your stomach feel like it’s clenched? Are you experiencing painful cramps in your midsection or bouts of nausea? This could be symptomatic of a panic attack.

Headache or lightheadedness

Some people experience dull to sharp headaches, even migraines, while others experience a feeling of faintness.

headaches during panic attacks

Are panic attacks dangerous?

In the short term, the answer is no. You won’t die from a panic attack. In a broader sense? Definitely. You can experience a panic attack and be completely fine once it’s over. However, when your body is worked up to a point of feeling an intense sense of panic or dread, and then reacts physically by experiencing a shortness of breath, racing heart and more, you’re putting lots of undue stress on your body. This can lead to a steep decline in your mental and physical health.

You need to find a way to manage your panic attacks, and to do so, you need to find the cause of them. Are you having a hard time coping with a traumatic event or memory? Are you showing signs of deteriorating mental health that’s resulting in the attacks? Speak with a medical professional about what could be causing your attacks so you can move toward treating them accordingly. Your health is essential, and without it, you won’t have the energy you need to work toward your goals and create a fulfilling life.

Important note

The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. See full disclaimer.

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