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Panic Attacks Information

  • A panic attack is a period of intense fear or discomfort, typically with an abrupt onset and usually lasting no more than thirty minutes. Symptoms include trembling, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, sweating, nausea, dizziness, hyperventilation, paresthesias (tingling sensations), and sensations of choking or smothering. The disorder is strikingly different from other types of anxiety disorders in that panic attacks are very sudden, appear to be unprovoked, and are often disabling. An episode is often categorized as a vicious cycle where the mental symptoms increase the physical symptoms, and vice-versa...
  • Most who have one attack will have others. People who have repeated attacks, or feel severe anxiety about having another attack, are said to have panic disorder.

    Panic disorder is real and potentially disabling, but it can be controlled with specific treatments. Because of the disturbing symptoms that accompany panic disorder, it may be mistaken for heart disease or some other life-threatening medical illness. This misconception often aggravates or triggers future attacks in the uninformed. People frequently go to hospital emergency rooms when they are having a panic attack, and extensive medical tests may be performed to rule out these other conditions.

    Treatment for panic disorder includes medications and a type of psychotherapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches people about the nature of panic attacks, the cycles of negative thoughts, and demonstrated ways to interrupt the panic process.

    Medications can be used to break the psychological connection between a specific phobia and panic attacks, reducing future panic attacks. Medications can include antidepressants (SSRI's, MAOI's, etc.) taken every day, or anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines, e.g. -- Valium, Ativan, Xanax, etc.) during or in anticipation of panic attacks. Exposure to the phobia trigger multiple times without a resulting panic attack (due to medication) can often break the phobia-panic pattern, allowing people to function around their phobia without the help of medications. However, for minor phobias that develop as a result of the panic attack, with early detection these can be eliminated without medication through monitored cognitive-behavioral therapy or simply by reinserting oneself into the phobic activity. The decision to participate in this therapy personally or through a registered practitioner should always be left to a medical professional.

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