About 2.4 million American adults between the ages of 18 and 54 will have a panic attack within a given year. These attacks cause feelings of terror and can strike suddenly and repeatedly without warning. Many people who suffer from the condition (also known as panic disorder) visit the emergency room repeatedly or see several doctors before obtaining a correct diagnosis. Proper treatment helps 70 to 90 percent of people with panic attacks, usually within six to eight weeks.
"It started 10 years ago, when I had just graduated from college and started a new job. I was sitting in a business seminar in a hotel and this thing came out of the blue. I felt like I was dying."
"For me, a panic attack is almost a violent experience. I feel disconnected from reality. I feel like I'm losing control in a very extreme way. My heart pounds really hard, I feel like I can't get my breath, and there's an overwhelming feeling that things are crashing in on me.
"In between attacks, there is this dread and anxiety that it's going to happen again. I'm afraid to go back to places where I've had an attack. Unless I get help, there soon won't be any place where I can go and feel safe from panic."
People with panic attacks, like the person in the preceding section, have feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly without warning. They can't predict when a panic attack will occur, and many people develop intense anxiety between episodes, worrying about when and where the next one will strike.
If you are having a panic attack, you may experience the following symptoms:
- 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. A panic attack generally peaks within 10 minutes, but some symptoms may last much longer.
(Click Panic Attack Symptoms for a more in-depth discussion on potential symptoms of a panic attack.)