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“It came upon me out of the blue, it was terrifying, it felt like I was dying, truly awful”
What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is a rush of intense anxiety and physical symptoms, they can be frightening and happen suddenly, often for no clear reason.
Some people think they are having a heart attack because it feels like their heart is beating fast or irregularly, or even that they are going to die.
Panic attacks usually last from around 5 to 20 minutes. Although it may feel like something is seriously wrong, they aren't dangerous and shouldn't harm you. You won't usually need to be admitted to hospital if you have had a panic attack.
What causes panic attacks?
The physical symptoms of a panic attack are caused by your body going into "fight or flight" mode. As your body tries to take in more oxygen, your breathing quickens. Your body also releases hormones, such as adrenaline, causing your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up.A panic attack can make you feel like you're about to collapse or even die, but it's usually harmless. However, in some cases, you may need medical advice to rule out an underlying physical cause.
Get medical advice if:
- Your panic attack continues after doing 20 minutes of slow breathing.
- You still feel unwell after your breathing returns to normal.
- You still have a rapid or irregular heartbeat or chest pains after your panic attack.
- You regularly have panic attacks, as this could be a sign that you have panic disorder.
Further symptoms of a panic attack
- Shortness of breath or a feeling of being smothered
- Heart palpitations – pounding heart or accelerated heart rate
- Dizziness, unsteadiness or faintness
- Trembling or shaking
- A feeling of shaking
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- A feeling of unreality – as if you are not all there
- Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
- Hot and cold flashes
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Fears of going crazy or losing control
- Fears of dying