What Does it Mean When You Have a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks are fairly common with around 5% of people having at least one attack at some time during their life.

They can be also be a very scary experience for people who have them. Yet many people do not know much about panic attacks and can often just brush a person’s experience away as just ‘nerves’.

Panic attacks can happen at any age but are less common in children. They can happen without warning and can be very scary for those who have them. Part of this is because they happen so suddenly. An attack can also mimic serious medical disease, which can add to a person’s anxiety about having one. Because of this similarity a health care professional needs to diagnose panic attacks as the reason for a person’s symptoms to make sure a medical disorder is not being overlooked.

Panic attacks often involve a feeling of intense fear without any reason (it is a false alarm as there is no real danger). Some people may only have one in their lifetime while others may have them regularly. For many people these episodes of panic can be mixed with a general anxiety about having panic attacks in the future. When anxiety about future attacks happens this may be a sign of a condition called panic disorder – this is a type of anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, are not uncommon in people who have panic attacks (although not everyone who has an attack will have an anxiety disorder). When a person has a panic disorder their fear of having another panic attack can make them avoid situations where they have previously had them in or places that they feel they might happen. Some people may even feel that only their own home is safe, which can lead to agoraphobia.

Fortunately, although the symptoms of panic attacks feel scary and severe they do not cause any physical harm. Yet, panic attacks (as well as panic disorder) can impact a person’s quality of life. Successful treatment is available which can have an important role in improving the lives of people who have regular panic attacks or panic disorder. Doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists are all excellent sources of help.

Photo: Fears 14 by Jen Montes – Flickr Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)