Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Your caregiver has informed you that you are having an anxiety or panic attack. There may be many forms of this. Most of the time these attacks come suddenly and without warning. They come at any time of day, including periods of sleep, and at any time of life. They may be strong and unexplained. Although panic attacks are very scary, they are physically harmless. Sometimes the cause of your anxiety is not known. Anxiety is a protective mechanism of the body in its fight or flight mechanism. Most of these perceived danger situations are actually nonphysical situations (such as anxiety over losing a job).

CAUSES

The causes of an anxiety or panic attack are many. Panic attacks may occur in otherwise healthy people given a certain set of circumstances. There may be a genetic cause for panic attacks. Some medications may also have anxiety as a side effect.

SYMPTOMS

Some of the most common feelings are:

  • Intense terror.

  • Dizziness, feeling faint.

  • Hot and cold flashes.

  • Fear of going crazy.

  • Feelings that nothing is real.

  • Sweating.

  • Shaking.

  • Chest pain or a fast heartbeat (palpitations).

  • Smothering, choking sensations.

  • Feelings of impending doom and that death is near.

  • Tingling of extremities, this may be from over-breathing.

  • Altered reality (derealization).

  • Being detached from yourself (depersonalization).

Several symptoms can be present to make up anxiety or panic attacks.

DIAGNOSIS

The evaluation by your caregiver will depend on the type of symptoms you are experiencing. The diagnosis of anxiety or panic attack is made when no physical illness can be determined to be a cause of the symptoms.

TREATMENT

Treatment to prevent anxiety and panic attacks may include:

  • Avoidance of circumstances that cause anxiety.

  • Reassurance and relaxation.

  • Regular exercise.

  • Relaxation therapies, such as yoga.

  • Psychotherapy with a psychiatrist or therapist.

  • Avoidance of caffeine, alcohol and illegal drugs.

  • Prescribed medication.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You experience panic attack symptoms that are different than your usual symptoms.

  • You have any worsening or concerning symptoms.