Living with Panic Attacks and the Need for Treatment
Panic attacks can be harrowing experiences, wrought with feelings of fear and dread that seem to come out of nowhere. After so many panic attack episodes, a person’s lifestyle can become restrictive, leaving him or her unable to manage or cope with daily life affairs.
According to the Journal of Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, an estimated 4.5 percent of the U. S. population develops a panic disorder at some point in their lifetime, with two-thirds of those affected being women. While the severity of symptoms experienced can vary from person to person (and episode to episode in some cases), when left untreated, a panic attack disorder can grow increasingly worse over time.
How Panic Attacks Work
In general, anxiety develops in response to stressful conditions, inciting both physical and psychological reactions. Someone affected by panic attacks can experience anxiety-based symptoms at any time, regardless of any existing stress factors.
According to Harvard Health Publications, panic attacks originate in an area of the brain known as the amygdale, which regulates emotional responses. From there, the brain releases large amounts of neurotransmitter chemicals that travel through the body’s central nervous system creating a domino effect of physical responses, including:
- Increased heart rate
- Increase in breathing rate
- Muscle tension
- Blood flow to the brain
Biologically speaking, these responses prepare a person for “fight-or-flight,” which can be a good thing when a viable threat presents itself. When the body responds this way for no known reason, the unpredictability of episodes can start to take a considerable toll on a person’s emotional well-being.
Panic Attack Symptoms
While panic attack symptoms can vary from person to person, episodes tend to be recurrent, with some people experiencing episodes during sleep. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, panic attack symptoms typically peak within 10 minutes, though residual effects can last considerably longer.
Other symptoms commonly experienced include:
- Feeling weak
- Feelings of terror
- Feeling out of control
- Fear of places where panic episodes occurred
- Mounting worries of having another attack
- Problems breathing
- Racing or pounding heartbeat
- Abdominal pain
- Chest pain
- Hot flashes or cold chills
- Tingling or numbness in the hands
Over time, panic attacks can leave a person disabled in the sense that fears of having another episode limit his or her sense of freedom. Places and situations in which attacks occurred are avoided. This means, if an attack happens at work or at the grocery store, a person may well view these settings as potential triggers.
In the most extreme of cases, a condition known as agoraphobia develops where a person fears open spaces in general. Under these conditions, he or she never leaves the house or only goes out when accompanied by a loved one or trusted friend. In effect, agoraphobia takes avoidance-based behavior to the extreme and can become the sole means for coping with the condition over time.
The overwhelming waves of fear associated with panic attack conditions also places sufferers at risk of developing any number of chronic medical conditions, such as gastrointestinal disorders, hypertension, heart conditions and asthma.
In the absence of needed treatment help, a panic attack disorder can cripple a person’s overall lifestyle, making it impossible to hold down a job or carry out everyday tasks like going to the grocery store. If you or someone you know struggles with panic attacks and have questions about available treatment options, please don’t hesitate to call our toll-free helpline at to speak with one of our phone counselors.