Psychiatry Associates Blog

What is a Panic Attack?: Signs and Treatments

panic attack womanIt isn’t uncommon to feel anxious or overwhelmed from time to time.  However, for roughly 18 percent of American adults, anxiety goes beyond the norm and can be classified as a disorder.  Among the most common types of anxiety disorders are phobias, social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.  However, for 2.7% of the population, even this level of anxiety occasionally crosses the line into panic.

What is Panic Disorder (PD)?

The hallmark that separates PD from other forms of anxiety disorders is the presence of panic attacks.  These attacks are sudden, spontaneous episodes of intense fear and anxiety.  They often come without warning or obvious cause and produce troublesome physical symptoms within the sufferer. 

What are the Symptoms of a Panic Attack?

A panic attack can begin quite suddenly and swiftly build in intensity.  On average, an attack will last about 10 minutes.  During this time, sufferers will typically experience feelings of terror or impending doom, racing heartrate or heart palpitations, and shortness of breath.  They may also feel weak or dizzy and experience trembling or shaking.  Other possible signs include:

  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Stomach pains
  • Numbness or tingling

Following the attack, it is not uncommon for sufferers to feel fatigued.

Who is Affected by Panic Disorders?

A panic disorder can affect anyone.  However, there are groups who are more likely to experience the condition than others.  Women, for instance, are twice as likely to suffer from PD as men.  PD sufferers also have an average age of onset of 24 and up to 70 percent are also diagnosed with a coexisting psychiatric condition such as depression or agoraphobia (fear of situations or places where a quick escape would be difficult). 

Treatment for Panic Disorders

Panic attacks can become more frequent and intense when left untreated, causing great disruption to the life of the patient.  Fortunately, current treatment methods for PD are generally successful in controlling anxiety and the associated attacks.  For most, a combination of talk therapy and prescription medication works well.  Among the most commonly prescribed drugs for PD are:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, etc.
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) – Effexor, etc.
  • Benzodiazepines – Xanax, Klonopin, etc.

After suffering a panic attack, it is common to experience heightened levels of stress and anxiety, wondering when the next episode may occur.  Such worry can have a drastic impact on one’s sense of normalcy and mental wellbeing.  Furthermore, the added stress only compounds the existing condition.  It is imperative that those who experience panic attacks seek immediate treatment from a board-certified psychiatrist.  Together, patient and physician can work through the issues at hand, including diagnosis, identifying triggers, coping mechanisms, and prescriptions.

If you are in the Baton Rouge area and are living with PD, contact Psychiatry Associates of Baton Rouge, and request an appointment with one of our highly qualified psychiatric physicians.