Signs of a Panic Attack

Amanda Seyfried has them. So does Nicole Kidman. And Emma Stone has been having them since childhood.

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Panic attacks can strike anytime, even while driving.

Besides being famous and successful movie stars, what these women all have in common is that they suffer from panic attacks. A panic attack is the sudden onset of intense fear that’s triggered by stress, anxiety, or sometimes no discernible cause at all. They usually come on suddenly and are accompanied by strong physical reactions. Signs of a panic attack include:

  • Sense of impending doom or danger
  • Fear of loss of control or death
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hyperventilation
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Tightness in your throat
  • Trouble swallowing

These attacks can occur at anytime, even when you’re asleep. Doctors don’t know what causes them exactly, but it’s believed that genes, a temperament that’s more susceptible to stress, and changes in parts of your brain may make certain people more prone to experiencing panic attacks. Other risk factors include significant stress, the death or serious illness of a loved one, major life changes (like having a baby), a history of childhood abuse, and trauma.

If you think you’re experiencing a panic attack, it’s important to see a doctor right away. Not only because the symptoms can also represent other serious conditions, but also because panic attacks – and even just the fear of experiencing another one – can significantly impact a person’s life, causing a sufferer to withdraw from social situations, develop phobias, abuse drugs and alcohol, or become depressed.

Panic attack disorder can be treated through a variety of methods. Psychotherapy and medications like anti-depressants and mild sedatives have been known to help sufferers gain control over their attacks and learn to cope with the symptoms. Exercise, stress management, a healthy sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and joining a support group are also helpful additions to your doctor’s professional treatment of panic attacks.

For help in getting your panic attacks under control, see your primary care doctor.

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