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Planning Retirement Online

Panic attacks

February 2012


Panic attacksWe live in a stressful world and sometimes it can all seem too much. But deep worry, whether it is about climate change, over population, losing one’s job or debt, is not the same as panic.

A panic attack is when you feel you are losing control. You will suddenly develop an overwhelming sense of fear, apprehension, anxiety and depression. The change can come in an intense rush and can also include physical symptoms such as nausea, sweating, trembling and heart palpitations when you feel your heart is beating irregularly or unusually fast. Other symptoms can include dizziness or faintness, shortness of breath, a sudden chill and even numbness in the fingertips.

The attack can begin very suddenly but usually peaks within 10 to 20 minutes although it can last up to an hour or more. Sometimes a panic attack can be mistaken for a heart attack.

The precise causes of why some people are more prone to a panic attack than others are unknown. It is thought that genetics may play a role - research has shown that if one identical twin has panic attacks, or panic disorder as it is officially called; then there is a 40% chance that the other twin will also develop the condition. Panic attacks are also twice as common in women than in men. However, panic attacks also occur when there is no other family history of the problem. Whatever the background, panic attacks are usually triggered by an especially stressful event.

Panic attacks are also very common. In the UK it is thought around 10% of the population has experienced an attack at some point in their lives. The very occasional panic attack is not really a cause of concern, but some people have one or two attacks every month and in bad cases, some people have reported to suffer several attacks every week.

Because of the dramatic onset of the condition, many people rush to their doctor’s emergency rooms or even their local hospital. Usually a physical examination is undertaken and blood tests will be done to ensure there are no main other causes of the attack.

By the time the examinations are complete, the patient has usually recovered from the attack and can be left a little bewildered, wondering what it was all about. In many cases, no treatment is suggested other than the patient go home and have a quiet time until they feel strong enough to resume their normal life. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine until the patient feels fully recovered is often recommended.

In severe and recurring cases, a combination of medication and cognitive-behavioural therapy can be recommended. Antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are some of the most commonly prescribed medicines and can include Fluoxetine (Prozac); Sertraline (Soloft) and Paroxetine (Paxil).

With cognitive-behavioural therapy, you will have a regular meeting with the therapist who will cover a wide range of areas to help you prevent the onset and to deal with the condition.

Having a panic attack is frightening but today it is recognised as a medical condition and there is a lot of help available.

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