Panic Attack Symptoms + 10 Unexpected Triggers
Have you ever experienced panic attack symptoms? If you have, then you know that the sensations are so intense it feels like you could be having a heart attack or other serious health issue. Panic attacks are characterized by a fear of losing control or surviving a disaster, even though there is no real danger in that moment.
There are many possible panic attack triggers, from bacterial infections to low blood sugar levels. Many people who experience a panic attack aren’t expecting it and have never had a panic attack before. According to a survey conducted by Harvard Medical School, the lifetime prevalence of isolated panic attacks for people without panic disorder is estimated to be about 23 percent.
If you aren’t familiar with the most common panic attack symptoms and some possible panic attack causes, a panic attack will certainly take you by surprise and feel like a life-threatening occurrence. Luckily, most panic attacks are harmless and will pass within 10 minutes or so. Plus, there are some natural remedies for anxiety and panic attacks that will help you to control your fear and limit your discomfort.
Deconstructing a Panic Attack + Panic Attack Symptoms
A panic attack is an intense and sudden development of fear or anxiety. You will usually experience a peak in symptoms about 10 minutes into a panic attack and then the feeling will begin to subside. Panic attacks can be scary and confusing, especially if it has never happened to you before. And when you’re in the middle of one, it’s hard to understand how to stop a panic attack because you aren’t necessarily in a rational state of mind. Here’s a quick breakdown of some common questions about panic attacks…
Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack: How Are They Different?
Ever wonder, “What is an anxiety attack?” And how does it differ from a panic attack? Or are they the same thing? In a Michigan Health blog, Ricks Warren, PhD, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, does a great job discussing some of the main differences between an anxiety “attack” and a true panic attack and panic attack symptoms.
Signs of an anxiety attack vs. panic attack are important to differentiate. Anxiety is more about chronically worrying about the future, such as excessive worry about death, illness or even minor things. Warren says anxiety attack symptoms include:
What is a panic attack? Panic attacks are different than anxiety attacks because they are more like acute, “short bursts of intense fear.” These bouts typically last less than a half hour. Panic attack symptoms include:
- Faster heart rate
- Brief chest pain
- Shortness of breath
How do you know when you have a panic attack?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a panic attack typically includes at least four of these panic attack signs and symptoms:
- Palpitations or irregular heartbeat
- Trouble breathing
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Hot flashes
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Chest pain
- Upset stomach
- Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- Feeling detached
- Fear of dying
What does a panic attack feel like?
There’s a reason why people who have just experienced a panic attack often end up in the emergency room or at a doctor’s office. Some panic attack symptoms feel scarily similar to many life-threatening health issues like heart disease or breathing disorders.
Can you have a panic attack for no reason?
Yes. Often, a panic attack begins out of the blue, with no warning. Some people even experience panic attack symptoms when they are completely relaxed or sleeping. Many people describe their own experience with a panic attack as an inability to stand up, breathe or function. It’s a state of intense and total panic. And your mind can only think about the fear of what you think is going on and what you think is going to happen. This tunnel vision makes the symptoms even worse, in most cases because the anxiety levels are heightened.
What’s going on inside of your body during a panic attack?
A panic attack has been described as a “fear of fear.” According to research conducted at Stanford University School of Medicine, when someone is experiencing a panic attack, he or she feels the common physical symptoms of anxiety, like dizziness, increased heart rate, shortness of breath and chest pain. These panic attack symptoms stem from the thought that something bigger and more fearful is about to happen — like fainting, having a heart attack or suffocating. Your mind actually has a “catastrophic interpretation of physical symptoms,” according to researchers.
This fear causes the body to go into a mode of hypervigilance, where you become even more aware of your bodily sensations. Right before a panic attack, as these thoughts have entered your head (whether you are aware of it or not), your body experiences an increased arousal of the sympathetic nervous system and heightened symptoms of anxiety, which spirals into a full-blown panic attack.
How do you feel right before and after a panic attack?
Most people will say that their panic attack symptoms occurred suddenly and out of the blue, but one study suggests that your body actually experiences physiological changes before a panic attack happens. For the study that was published in Biological Psychiatry, 43 panic disorder patients underwent repeated 24-hour monitoring. Researchers were able to evaluate 13 panic attacks, where they found patients experienced significant patterns of autonomic and respiratory instability as early as 47 minutes before the panic attacks began. So although you may not sense these changes occurring, your heart rate and lung volume begin to change before you experience noticeable signs of a panic attack.
How long do panic attacks last? Most last only about 10 minutes or so, but after a panic attack, you will probably feel exhausted and completely drained of energy. The aftermath of a panic attack is different for everyone, but some may feel embarrassed if the attack happened in public, some may grow fearful of having another attack and others experience signs of depression following a panic attack.
10 Panic Attack Triggers
What causes panic attacks? The truth there’s not one concrete cause for every case. But here are some of the top panic attack triggers that could be making your life difficult.
1. Panic Disorder
People with panic disorder experience recurrent panic attacks; in fact, panic attacks can occur as often as several times a day for some, and only a few times per year for others. Researchers suggest that panic disorder stems from an interaction of genetic and environmental factors. It can be caused by a stressful life event, like divorce, abuse or the death of a loved one, a family history or mental and anxiety disorders, elevated cortisol levels or even shyness in childhood. Women are also more likely to experience symptoms of panic disorder than men.
Not all people who get panic attacks have panic disorder. According to researchers, to fall within the criteria of panic disorder, a person must have at least one panic attack, followed by at least one month of persistent concern or fear of having another one. A person with panic disorder will also change their behaviors or activities in order to avoid situations that may bring on another attack, like avoiding social activities or calling out of work.