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What You Need to Know About Panic Attacks

What You Need to Know About Panic Attacks

About 10% of adults experience panic attacks each year. If you’ve had one, you’ll probably recognize the symptoms.

In a panic attack, you feel sudden and intense anxiety and fear that’s not connected to any current threat. You sweat and tremble. Your heart races, and your breath speeds up. You may also have chest pain and nausea.

While the effects are dramatic, panic attacks are usually brief and cause little or no physical harm. However, they can still disrupt your life.

Anyone can be affected, so there's no reason to feel embarrassed. Panic attacks are also highly treatable. Find out more about what you can do to overcome and avoid them.

Treating Panic Attacks

About 3% of adults who have panic attacks develop anxiety disorders, while others have only one or two episodes. Learn how and when to seek medical care.

Use these techniques to treat panic attacks:

  1. Get diagnosed. Your doctor will run tests to screen for physical issues such as heart disease and respiratory conditions. They may also ask about your family history, as well as how often you have panic attacks and how they’re affecting your life.

  2. Treat physical causes. In some cases, there can be underlying medical conditions. That can include hyperthyroidism, low blood sugar, and withdrawal from certain medications.

  3. Rule out heart attacks. It’s easy to confuse a panic attack with a heart attack. A panic attack is more likely to involve sharp pain in the middle of your chest, while a heart attack often comes with pressure in the center or left side of your chest. Most importantly, a panic attack doesn’t block blood flow to your heart.

  4. Take medication. Some types of antidepressants are effective at making panic attacks less frequent and severe. Your doctor may also prescribe anti-anxiety drugs. Follow your doctor’s instructions to avoid side effects.

  5. Consider counseling. You might start to fear having future panic attacks and limit your activities to avoid them. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you deal with your emotions and develop coping strategies.

Preventing Panic Attacks

Women are twice as likely as men to have panic attacks. Some risk factors are beyond your control, but there are steps you can take to help protect yourself.

These strategies can help you avoid having a panic attack:

  1. Educate yourself. Just knowing more about your condition will probably provide some relief. You’ll have a more realistic understanding of your symptoms, and you’ll be aware of your treatment options.

  2. Avoid caffeine. Any kind of anxiety can be exacerbated by caffeine. Switch to decaf and watch your consumption of other products with caffeine. That includes chocolate, cola, and some supplements.

  3. Drink responsibly. Alcohol and other drugs can increase your risk for panic attacks. If you’re having trouble quitting on your own, seek professional care.

  4. Quit smoking. You might think that smoking relaxes you, but nicotine actually increases anxiety. Use nicotine replacement devices if you need help with withdrawal symptoms and focus on how much more comfortable you’ll feel when you’re tobacco free.

  5. Manage stress. Do you feel pressured and overwhelmed much of the time? Lifestyle changes can help reduce stress. As a bonus, you may also sleep more peacefully, which will lower your anxiety levels too. Eat a healthy diet, work out regularly, and find relaxation practices that work for you.

  6. Build support. Let your family and friends know how they can help you. Staying connected will make you feel more secure.

Panic attacks can make you uncomfortable and keep you from doing the things you enjoy. But you can take back control of your life. Let your doctor know about your symptoms, so you can receive the care you need.

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