A panic attack is a sudden feeling of terror that strikes unexpectedly and repeatedly without warning. Symptoms of pounding heart and shortness of breath often lead people to think they are having a heart attack. Many people visit the emergency room or see several doctors before obtaining a correct diagnosis. Proper treatment helps 70 to 90 percent of people who experience more than one attack.
A panic attack consists of unexpected feelings of extreme fear and dread that strike for no apparent reason, causing the heart to race, rapid breathing, sweating, and shakiness. Some people who are having a panic attack go to the hospital, believing they are having a heart attack.
A panic attack can come right out of the blue for no apparent reason, even when you're not in a situation that would normally make you feel stress, anxiety, or fear. You can't predict when an attack will occur, and many people develop intense anxiety between episodes, worrying about when and where the next one will strike.
Causes of a Panic Attack
The cause of panic attacks is not fully understood. It is believed that genetics, stressful life events, and even a person's basic temperament can all contribute to their development. Intense scientific research is being conducted to better understand the possible causes.
(Click Cause of Panic Attack for more information.)
Common Symptoms of a Panic Attack
People who are having a panic attack have feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly with no warning. Common panic attack symptoms include:
- Pounding heart
- Feeling sweaty, weak, faint, or dizzy
- Hands may tingle or feel numb
- Feeling flushed or chilled
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or smothering sensations
- A sense of unreality
- Hot flashes or chills
- Fear of impending doom or loss of control.
You may genuinely believe you're having a heart attack or losing your mind, or that you're on the verge of death.
Panic attacks can occur at any time, even during sleep. An attack generally peaks within ten minutes, but some symptoms may last much longer.