A panic attack is a sudden onset of some terrifying and severe physical and mental symptoms which can be as frightening as they are sudden and can occur with no clear cause or trigger.

Panic attacks normally last for between 5 and 20 minutes and usually peak within 10 minutes. Although they can often conjure feelings of heart attack, choking and imminent death, panic attacks themselves cannot harm you and have never been known to cause injury or death to anyone.

Symptoms of Panic attacks

If you are having a panic attack you will experience 4 or more of the symptoms below

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Chills or hot flushes
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of losing control
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • Feeling of choking
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Palpitations or tachycardia
  • Paresthesias
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Sense of impending doom
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking

What causes these feelings?

In panic attacks each of these feelings is basically caused by a sudden release of adrenaline in your body. Adrenaline is the chemical used in the fight or flight effec, which is the body’s natural defense mechanism to danger and gives our body added strength to fight or run away from whatever endangers us. The problem is a panic attack is a release of adrenaline by our bodies for a danger that doesn’t exist.

Should you see a doctor?

If you experience a single panic attack and it lasts no longer than about 20 minutes, then no you do not need to see a doctor as there is no way that a panic attack can hurt you and there is no guarantee that you will ever have another panic attack.

If however you have had multiple panic attacks and are starting to fear having more panic attacks then you may be suffering from a panic disorder and you should probably consult a doctor. You may find that medicine helps you for a short while but for a long term cure you should be looking at cognitive behavioural therapy.