Panic attacks and panic disorder

Other names:


A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you're losing control, having a heart attack, or even dying. If you've had recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and spent long periods in constant fear of another attack, you may have a condition called panic disorder.


Panic attacks typically begin suddenly, without warning. They can strike at any time and may include symptoms such as rapid heart rate, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, chest pain, and dizziness. One of the worst things about panic attacks is the intense fear of having another one.


The exact cause of panic attacks and panic disorder is unknown but factors such as genetics, major stress, temperament, and changes in brain function may play a role. Panic attacks may be triggered by certain situations and involve the body's natural fight-or-flight response to danger.


Symptoms of panic disorder often start in late teens or early adulthood and affect more women than men. Risk factors include family history, major life stress, traumatic events, major life changes, smoking, childhood abuse history, etc.


Left untreated, panic attacks and panic disorder can lead to various complications affecting almost every area of life including specific phobias, frequent medical care visits, social avoidance, depression, anxiety disorders, substance misuse, etc.


Before your appointment with a healthcare provider for panic attack symptoms, prepare by listing your symptoms, personal information, medical history, medications, and questions to ask the doctor.


To determine if you have panic attacks or panic disorder, your healthcare provider may conduct a physical exam, blood tests, heart tests (ECG), psychological evaluation or questionnaires to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.


Treatment options for panic attacks and panic disorder include psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral therapy) and medications (SSRIs/SNRIs/Benzodiazepines). Lifestyle changes like regular physical activity can also help manage symptoms.


Getting treatment for panic attacks early on and sticking with the treatment plan are key in preventing worsening symptoms. Regular physical activity may also play a role in managing anxiety.


Inositol supplements may potentially reduce the frequency and severity of panic attacks by influencing serotonin action. However, consult with your doctor before trying any supplements due to possible side effects and interactions with other medications.


  1. What is a panic attack?

A sudden episode of intense fear triggering severe physical reactions without real danger.

  1. How do panic attacks typically begin?

Suddenly without warning.

  1. What are some risk factors for developing panic attacks?

Family history of panic disorders, major life stressors, traumatic events.

  1. What are some complications associated with untreated panic disorder?

Specific phobias, social avoidance, depression.

  1. What are the main treatment options for panic disorder?

Psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral therapy) and medications (SSRIs/SNRIs/Benzodiazepines).

  1. How can lifestyle changes help in managing panic attacks?

Regular physical activity may play a role in protecting against anxiety.

  1. What should you do before your appointment with a healthcare provider for panic attack symptoms?

Make a list of symptoms, personal information, medical history, medications & questions.

  1. How can alternative medicine potentially help in reducing the frequency of panic attacks?

Inositol supplements may influence serotonin action.

  1. What are some key criteria for diagnosing panic disorder according to DSM-5?

Frequent unexpected panic attacks followed by ongoing worry about having another attack.

  1. What role does genetics play in the development of panic disorder?

It is one of the factors that may contribute to the development of panic attacks or panic disorder.