Panic attacks are common. Up to 40% of people may get a panic attack once in their life. Every year, up to 11% of American experience a panic attack. Women are twice more likely than men to get a panic attack.
As part of our focus on Mental Health this month, we asked Dr Foong to explain panic attacks. What are they and what can you do to mitigate them?
What is a panic attack?
Occasional anxiety is common. But if these anxious episodes come on repeatedly and increase intensely and exponentially to a peak, this is called a ‘panic attack’.
A panic attack is when there is an intense, uncontrollable feeling of nervousness, restlessness or tension. There could be a feeling of impending danger, panic or doom. There are often physical symptoms that include a racing heart (palpitations), hyperventilation with rapid and shallow breathing, chest pains, nausea, sweating, lump in the throat or choking sensation, unable to take a deep breath in because of pressure on the chest (like someone sitting on you), numbness or tinging in hands, fear of losing your mind, fear of dying, at the same time unable to control these symptoms or rationalise to stop these feelings.
What triggers a panic attack?
It may be the same external trigger, where an identifiable situation or stress can be identified. If one knows the ‘trigger’ it can help mentally prepare and assuage the attack. Sometimes, however, there are no clear triggers, apart from high generalised stress and this means the onset may be sudden.
What can you do?
Seek help sooner rather than later. If panic attacks are starting to affect your daily life, definitely seek help. Often embarrassment could be the reason for the delay in getting help. Talking to a trained medical personnel (your doctor or a psychologist) can help.
Simple measures like breathing techniques, mindfulness and meditation can help, avoiding caffeine and reducing alcohol may also help. Cognitive behavioural therapy may also be employed in some cases to break the trigger cycle. If there is underlying anxiety that does not respond to some simple measures, medical issues such as heart disease, thyroid issues, diabetes, vitamin D deficiency, chronic pain and rare tumours should be assessed for.
We see people suffering from anxiety, panic attacks and stress in both clinics. Please contact us and see a friendly doctor to discuss your needs.