The 101 Guide to Panic Attack Symptoms
When people think of mental health, they often don’t immediately associate physical symptoms with mental health disorders. But there is a physical component that goes along with many mental health issues. For those who struggle with a panic disorder or even some other versions of general anxiety disorder, panic attacks are a far too real issue that affects both their minds and bodies.
How Severe Are Panic Attack Symptoms?
Panic attack symptoms can take on many forms. They can sometimes be so severe; people wind up in the ER because they feel as if they can't breathe. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, because panic attack symptoms can be intense, they often mimic symptoms of heart disease, thyroid problems, breathing disorders and other illnesses.
Those undiagnosed with a panic disorder sometimes find out about their condition because doctors were running tests to figure out the physiological issues causing the panic attack symptoms.
Panic attack symptoms can be physically demanding. This is why people with anxiety are six times more likely to be hospitalized or go to a doctor due to a psychiatric disorder.
Who Is Affected by Panic Disorders and Anxiety?
According to WebMD, panic disorders affect about 6 million adults in the United States. Women are twice as likely as men to develop the condition, and often symptoms start developing in the teen years.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Panic disorders are just one of several mental health disorders that fall under the category of anxiety disorder. In the United States, 40 million adults are affected by anxiety disorders every year.
While the cause of panic attack symptoms and overall panic disorders is still not entirely understood, science has uncovered certain factors contributing to this mental health disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following are factors that contribute to the likelihood of having an anxiety disorder:
Genetics: if your parents or other relatives dealt with this mental health issue, you are statistically more likely to experience it as well.
Significant stress: dramatic life changes like relocating, job loss, financial issues, traumatic experiences, or any combination of the above can contribute to experiencing panic attack symptoms.
Temperament: Some people have a more natural disposition and personality that lends toward being more sensitive to stress or prone to negative emotions.
Certain changes in the way parts of your brain function
What Do Panic Attack Symptoms Look Like?
The Mayo Clinic defines panic attacks as “a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.”
Many scientists theorize that panic attacks are a result of our “flight or fight” response. As such, many symptoms mirror the reaction you’d have in truly life or death situations like rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath. However, panic attack symptoms are much more involved and diverse than that.
Here are the main panic attack symptoms someone may experience.
During a panic attack, people may experience heart palpitations or an accelerated heart rate. This panic attack symptom can actually cause your heart rate to increase to up to 200 beats per minute or even faster.
These tachycardia events can often trigger other panic attack symptoms such as lightheadedness, shortness of breath and even chest pains.
Fortunately, these episodes usually end within 20 minutes, but during a panic attack can be very scary, especially when paired with other panic attack symptoms.
Chest Pain or Discomfort
This is often paired with the racing heartbeat panic attack symptom. Chest pains are why people experiencing a panic attack sometimes think they are having a heart attack instead. However, there are some significant differences between the two.
The chest pain people experience as a panic attack symptom usually stays in the mid-chest area. Alternatively, a heart attack typically causes pain in the chest but moves toward the left arm or jaw. The pain also goes away once the attack is over; however, it can leave people exhausted.
It seems like something you typically see as a benign sign of nerves in a RomCom or teen movie. But in some cases, sweating can be a whole lot more. While it’s a more subtle panic attack symptom, it can be a sign an attack is imminent or about to escalate.
One study analyzed the different panic attack symptoms of 111 participants and concluded “that in the absence of the intensive physical activity of the 'flight or fight' reaction, sweating as well as hyperventilation can cause alkalosis, which in turn might generate panic attacks.”
Alkalosis is an excessively alkaline condition of the body fluids or tissues that may cause weakness or cramps. This means that during a panic attack, the symptoms are likely building on top of each other. The excessive sweating can cause alkalosis, which can present as other panic attack symptoms such as weakness or cramps.
Tingling or Numbness
During a panic attack, some people experience paresthesia, which is a tingling or numbness sensation. There are several possible causes for why this panic attack symptom occurs. One reason is that during a panic episode, blood vessels constrict. This then increases the heart rate and overall blood pressure, ultimately reducing the blood flow throughout the body. This can often leave hands and feet feeling tingly, numb or even cold.
Other causes could be from overly tensing muscles or physically freezing in a position that causes your body to be uncomfortable and cut off circulation.
Other Panic Attack Symptoms
As you can see by just a few details above, many panic attack symptoms go hand in hand. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, you need to experience at least four of these to be considered a panic attack. And there are a lot more to look out for:
Trembling or shaking
Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
Feelings of choking
Nausea or abdominal distress
Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
Chills or heat sensations
Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
Fear of dying
How to Seek Treatment
Medications can help manage the neurological component of panic attacks, and psychotherapy is very effective in helping provide coping mechanisms to work through bouts of panic.
Unfortunately, only about 36 percent of people who suffer from these anxiety disorders receive the treatment they need to improve their overall mental health.
If you or someone you know is suffering from panic attack symptoms, seek out treatment and psychotherapy referrals from your healthcare provider. You don’t have to suffer alone.
Looking for a Therapist In Pennsylvania?
When it comes to your mental health, you deserve to have individualized care and treatment. No one should have to suffer from panic attack symptoms. If you’re located in Pennsylvania and would like help to manage your symptoms and possible anxiety or panic disorder, our therapists are ready to listen and discuss your options.
Call us today to find out if our services would be a good fit for your mental health needs.