Learn About Ailments | Panic Attacks

Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are episodes of severe psychological distress & intense anxiety which typically occur with little warning. Large amounts of adrenaline are released into the blood & this can result in chest pains, hyperventilation, sweating & dizziness.
Panic Attacks

In This Article
Watch the panic attacks video Causes of panic attacks
Symptoms of panic attacks Diagnosis of panic attacks
Related terms


Did you know?
  • Panic attacks are rare after the age of 65
  • Women are more likely to suffer panic attacks
  • Panic attacks affect around 5% of the population
  • Appropriate therapy can help over 90% of panic attack cases
  • Panic attacks usually start between teenage years and early 20s

Panic attacks are caused by an exaggerated response by the body's internal 'warning system'. During a stressful or dangerous situation, the body attempts to cope by releasing the adrenaline hormone. Enough adrenaline is usually released to trigger various physical reactions such as muscle tension, heightened senses, rapid breathing (to increase oxygen intake for energy) and increased heart rate (to pump blood to areas of the body that need it). These physical reactions prepare the body to 'fight or flight' - an ancestral throw-back to prepare for life-threatening danger. Today, the response isn't just triggered by fear but also by overexcitement and excessive stress.

Panic attacks occur when the body is flooded with the adrenaline hormone and the individual is unable to deal with the response. Factors that may trigger a panic attack can be physical or psychological and recurrent panic attacks lead to panic disorder. Psychological triggers of panic attacks can come from fear of a situation (such as visiting the dentist or getting on a plane). Emotional traumas (such as bereavement) and life stress can also trigger an attack. Childhood influences or incidents of separation anxiety or abuse can lead to panic disorder developing later in life. Family history can also increase the risk of developing panic disorder through inherited genes or a chemical imbalance in the brain may lead to panic disorder too.

Physical factors that cause, or contribute to, panic attacks include hypoglycaemia (unstable blood sugar levels), hyperventilation, digestion disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, drug withdrawal and side-effects from prescription medicine. An increase in panic attacks has also been linked to pregnancy due to a change in hormone levels.

Panic attack symptoms develop rapidly and sometimes with little reason. Common symptoms of a panic attack include palpitations, chest pain, breathlessness, light headedness, fainting, tingling, numbness, hot/cold flushes and nausea. Panic attack sufferers often feel that they are having a heart attack as the symptoms are similar.

Another common symptom of panic attacks is a feeling of being detached from the situation. This detachment is referred to as 'depersonalisation' and makes the sufferer feel as though they are an observer to their own attack. This depersonalisation creates a confusing and disorientating experience and does little to relieve the attack.

The majority of panic attacks last from 5-30 minutes and reach their peak after 10 minutes. There are no specific times of day that panic attacks occur and many people suffer them as much at night as during the day.

Experiencing a panic attack does not mean that it will develop into panic disorder. However, being diagnosed with panic disorder means the individual will experience panic attacks. If a phobia triggers panic attacks then people will avoid what makes them fearful and therefore not have an attack. People with panic disorder will experience frequent panic attacks for no obvious reason.

A visit to the GP to talk about the symptoms and feelings associated with panic attacks can lead to a diagnosis. A GP will also carry out a physical examination to rule out any underlying conditions that may be causing the attacks such as an overactive thyroid problem.

  • Anxiety Attack
  • Panic
  • Worry
  • Escape
  • Loss of control
  • Avoidance
  • Terror
  • Alarm
  • Distortion
  • PTSD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • SSRI

Therapies to consider
Alexander Technique Aromatherapy Art Therapy
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Colour Therapy Counselling
EFT EMDR Energy Healing
Herbal Medicine Homeopathy Hypnotherapy
Life Coaching Naturopathy NLP
Psychotherapy Reflexology Reiki
Thought Field Therapy


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