How to know when you’re having ‘panic attack’ — what it is and is it preventable
If the somatic response to calm the body is interrupted, however, the immediate need for flight or fight can go unchecked. The heightened agitation due to worry or a prolonged agitation that arises is from what is referred to as a panic attack disorder.
As the increase of stress interrupts the body’s parasympathetic nervous system and it stays at an elevated peak instead of helping the body regain calm. A common indicator that someone is experiencing a panic attack is it can feel like they are slipping into a complete loss of control.
An abrupt experience of mounting fear or inexplicable sense of discomfort may be the initial stages of a panic attack. Whether solitary or in busy surroundings, their root cause may start in the brain that is complemented in the nervous system.
The protective role of the nervous system against panic
When there is a stressful event or situation, particular areas in the human brain become hyperactive during a panic attack. A section at the back center of the brain called the amygdala signals the human body to experience fear, while other sections in the midbrain work to how it experiences pain. These instances happen simultaneously as the body’s nervous system will ramp up and arm the body for defense.
Part of the body’s autonomics’ nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in to guard the body against consuming all its energy.
Unlike its companion, the sympathetic nervous system that will signal the need for fight or flight, the parasympathetic system is a “rest and digest system” that helps relax the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract and slow the body’s heart rate to help the body reach a calm state so its functions can again continue normally.
Panic attack vs anxiety attack — are they the same?
Anxiety can be a symptom of a panic attack. However, panic attacks and anxiety attacks differ in when and how long they occur.
An attack of anxiety can happen as a person starts to fear something is about to occur terribly or go horribly wrong about a specific perceived situation or event. A panic attack occurs suddenly when there is no recognizable trigger—and in a range of intensities and without a warning.
Anxiety symptoms can be associated with a varied range of mental health situations. These conditions may include trauma or an obsessive-compulsive disorder. While panic attacks can affect individuals who may exhibit a panic disorder.
The description for an anxiety attack as a medical term is not included in the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (APA, DSM-V), 5th Edition.
However, anxiety disorder is listed as a “separation” occurrence. While generalized anxiety disorder is noted to affect up to 2 percent of the U.S. adult population–and women are more likely to experience an anxiety disorder where a panic disorder might occur.
What are the specific kinds of symptoms between an anxiety or panic attack?
Some specific differences that can distinguish a panic attack from an attack that’s linked to anxiety:
An attack of anxiety:
- Can develop slowly but increase as a person begins to feel anxious.
- Frequently can occur from a specific trigger that may come during or following a medical-related exam, a course or study exam, a health-related event, a problem in a relationship, or a situation in a work-based role.
- Is a condition that’s unable to immediately diagnose.
- May or may not exhibit physical responses (tightening in the chest or belly, shortness of breath, or extreme discomfort).
- Has a lesser volatility or severity than an attack of panic.
A panic attack:
- May happen independently of when an individual is calm or anxious.
- Symptoms may range from intense to increasingly severe.
- May arise from a condition that can be diagnosed from a symptom of panic disorder.
- Can demonstrate as physical experiences and emotions of fear or terror so pronounced there is a feeling of unconquerable loss or death.
- Does not occur from a specific stressor (pressure from an event, likelihood or worry) or trigger.
The symptoms or signs of a panic disorder:
- An experience or feeling of being out of control, unexplainable fear of dying or an impression of imminent doom.
- The real-world symptoms experienced during a panic attack or panic attack disorder:
- chest pains
- numbing in hands,
- palpitations or a racing heart,
- stomach discomfort,
- tingling feeling in any of the extremities,
- tiredness or weakness.
- Unexpected or repetitive panic attacks and/or insurmountable feelings of anxiety or fear.
- Niggling fear or completely avoiding areas or locations where panic attacks previously have happened.
- Heightened worry over when the next panic attack may or will occur.
How do you treat a panic attack?
You should try and connect with a physician if you believe you may be already experiencing symptoms. A reputable doctor should perform an examination and be willing to ask you questions about your health and history in checking if other physical conditions potentially may be the cause of any existing problems.
A physical may ask to refer you to another professional for panic attack treatment, such as a psychiatrist or physiologist in a specialized mental health-related field.
Panic attack prevention
After a panic disorder is diagnosed, it is treated generally with psychotherapy, medication or a combination of them. It is strongly urged that you speak with a medical professional who can determine the treatment that is right for you.
What about psychotherapy—how does it work?
Two kinds of treatment may help to reduce the symptoms or signs of panic disorder: cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medication.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
There is a type of psychotherapy referred to as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that is typically used to treat the first-occurrence of panic disorder.
Behavioral therapy awareness helps you achieve different patterns of thinking, reasoning, and how to react and respond to varied situations where an instance of panic might surface. Then the ways that you can choose to react by self-affirming and nurturing manners to alleviate when unwanted feelings try to reemerge when there’s a panic attack.
CBT participants may notice resurgences of panic begin to disappear as individuals discover they can react differently to the sensory feelings accompanying a panic attack and how to reduce the instances of anxiety or fear.
Upon seeing a mental health-related physician, a specific type of panic attack medication may be prescribed to treat any instances of panic disorder:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (called SSRIs),
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (named SNRIs).
Beta-blockers are not prescribed commonly to treat occurrences of panic disorder. However, these blockers may be able to assist in very specific circumstances unique to the individual in pretreating a panic attack.
Sedative medications called benzodiazepines can dramatically reduce panic attack symptoms. Yet, tolerance or dependency may be developed with these medications’ continued use.
SNRIs and SSRIs have medically been used to treat panic attack signs that normally are used to treat depression. Individuals who take these medications may not see improvements in the first several weeks and side effects may occur. Instances of trouble sleeping, nausea or headaches are possible but are not dramatically pronounced when a dosage is started low. Before it is increased gradually.
It’s strongly suggested to stay up to date on the newest changes and revisions about medications and warnings at the Food and Drug Administration. Be certain to ask a physician to help you determine the medication and dosage that will be the most beneficial.
Panic attack questions
Sometimes, speaking with a medical professional may be unnerving. Although, talking with a physician in anxiety and panic disorder treatment can provide immediate answers and plans of action that can improve your health. Reach the Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality for helpful information and insights at Ahrq.gov.
Treatment is a restorative and gradual process — how to get help
Panic attack prevention, as any holistic process involving healing, is a restorative and gradual process. While there are advancements in panic attack natural treatments, it can take time to choose the best recovery environment that is healthful and one you can stick with.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shares mental health-related locations and information for persons and individuals who experience mental illness. Find the healthful alternatives that can provide a safe and healthy recovery and always with the focus of well-being in mind.
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