What is a Panic Attack?
During my recent research into Panic disorders, I came across an eye-opening statistic by the National Institute of Mental Health. It stated, “Panic disorder affects about 6 million American adults and is twice as common in women as men.” It further went on to explain how panic attacks, a precursor to panic disorders, can begin to appear in late adolescence and early adulthood. As a result, I composed this blog post to answer some basic questions related to panic attacks, especially when someone should consider getting medical or mental health treatment.
What is a Panic Attack?
According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) a panic attack is characterized by the abrupt presence of various symptoms which tend to build within a short time frame. A sense of imminent danger or impending doom, along with an urge to escape, can also be characteristic of a panic attack.
How Do I Know if I’m Having a Panic Attack?
Symptoms of a panic attack can cause somatic and/or cognitive reactions. Somatic reactions are generally physical symptoms that usually suggest a medical condition exists. Symptoms like palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, nausea, chest pain, dizziness, etc. are a few examples of the symptoms an individual can experience while having a panic attack.
Cognitive reactions affect the way a person thinks. For example, an individual experiencing a panic attack will often report feeling like they are losing control, a fear of dying or a belief that something disastrous will happen. These reactions are typical of a panic attack especially when they occur in the absence of real danger.
When Should I Seek Treatment?
For some individuals, they may only experience a panic attack once. If, however, you notice you are having recurrent episodes of a panic attack and/or feelings of anxiety, you should definitely begin by contacting your physician. A medical evaluation can inform you whether there is a medical explanation for the symptoms you are experiencing.
Should your physician report no medical explanation, consulting with a mental health provider should then be considered. A mental health provider like a psychologist, social worker, counselor, etc., can help you identify what may be triggering the attacks and/or whether you have some unresolved or repressed issues that need to be addressed.
Overall, if you have experienced a couple of panic attacks in a relatively short time period, you should consult with your primary care physician and/or mental health care professional. Doing so may help prevent the attacks from turning into a disorder, which can affect your social and/or physical ability to function.
Do you have any thoughts or questions about panic attacks? Please post them below.
Christine M. Valentín
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