Our brains are wired to recognize fear and experience anxiety when we are frightened. But for some people a feeling of intense fear and anxiety appears suddenly, without warning or provocation, and this feeling can last a few minutes or longer than half an hour. Such an experience is known as a panic attack. People who experience panic attacks become overwhelmed by sudden fear and panic for their lives. Experiencing one or more panic attacks in a month with constant worry about future attacks is known as panic disorder. Panic disorder has affected over 3 million Americans and can have a debilitating effect on one’s emotional and psychological health. Panic disorder is, however, treatable and certain signs and symptoms can help individuals recognize and distinguish a panic attack from a heart attack or other sudden events. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) lists the following common signs and symptoms of panic disorder:
- Intense anxiety between panic attacks
- A feeling of being out of control
- An intense worry about when the next attack will happen
- A fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past
- Physical symptoms during an attack, such as pounding or racing heart, sweating, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, feeling hot or a cold chill, tingly or numb hands, chest pain or stomach pain
For more information about symptoms, treatment options and local resources visit www.nami.org.