What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is an unexpected occurrence of extreme fear
usually caused by events that pose unproportionate danger to the anxiety or no
danger at all. The attacks are most at times terrifying.
Most of the people who experience a panic attack think that
they are going mad, are getting a heart attack, are losing control or are even
Most people may experience a panic attack once or twice in
their lives. In those instances, once the object or event causing the fear
ends, the attack subsides.
The human body has a natural fight-or-flight mechanism that
responds to a danger. The same mechanism according to some research is
responsible for panic attacks. The fight-or-flight response increases the heart
rate and breathing to help you to run, hide or fight the danger. The danger for
example a gun-trotting person triggers that response.
It is however unknown what triggers the panic attack in situations where there is no imminent danger or when the danger is not very harmful.
Whatever the cause every person who experiences it will want a fast acting medication for panic attacks or other ways for quick relief.
Symptoms of panic attacks:
Most of the people experience the panic attack symptoms
unexpectedly while undergoing their normal routines. They may happen when you
are driving, shopping, at work, at school or even when sleeping.
The commonly experienced symptoms include:
- Very fast, pounding heartbeat
- Having a weak, faint, or dizzy sensation
- Presenting with numb of tingly fingers and hands
- Having chills
- Breathing difficulties
- Chest pains and abdominal cramping
- Having a feel of losing control or fear for death
- Sensation of imminent danger or disaster
- Hot flashes
- Feeling of unreality or detachment
After the symptoms subside, most of the individuals feel fatigues and sapped of all energy. For some people the panic attacks are recurrent and unexpected with accompanying period of fear of another attack. These persons suffer from Panic disorder.
Panic attacks are so sudden in nature but with panic
disorders, the triggers may be pinpointed.
Panic attacks are never life threatening but are in most
instances extremely alarming. They also significantly reduce the quality of
life for persons with recurrent panic attacks.
Causes of panic attacks
Research has not been able to pinpoint the real cause of
panic attacks. However, there are several factors that play a major role in
having panic attacks. They include:
- Changes in brain function that facilitate the
occurrence of anxiety
- Having a temperament that is delicate, and thus
prone to stress and negative emotions.
Risk factors for panic attacks and panic disorder
Panic attacks affect more women than men and, in most cases,
start during the late teenage period to early adulthood.
Some of the risk factors for developing panic attacks or panic disorders are:
- Having a blood relative with history of panic attacks or panic disorder
- Major stress for example the loss of a loved one.
- A disturbing occasion, for example rape or grave accident
- Key life changes like divorce.
- Smoking, drugs or too much intake of alcohol or caffeine.
- Trauma: Having been abused physically or sexually in childhood.
- Having other mental disorders like depression
- Personality types that are prone to panics and anxiety.
Treatment of panic attacks
Panic attacks like most anxiety disorders can be treated by
using 3 broad methods, namely:
- Use of medication
- Symptom management
It should be noted that medication for anxiety and other
mental disorders should be used under the guidance of a doctor or a pharmacist.
Therefore, if you feel the symptoms of a panic attack, it is recommended that
you see a doctor.
A doctor may prescribe a fast acting medication for panic attacks or a long acting one.
Medication for panic attacks
During a panic attack, the fear and symptoms are a bit
extreme to the point of feeling like dying. In those instances, one feels the
need of a prompt relief from the symptoms. The instant anxiety relief
medication helps to improve the ability to function.
The fast-acting medication for panic attacks might be having
some side effects but the benefits may outweigh the effect of the anxiety.
Some of the fast acting medication for panic attacks include:
These drugs also known as tranquilizers are quick acting with relief taking place within 30 minutes to 1 hour after use. They are widely used because of this. They work in the brain slowing down the nervous system hence giving the body a chance to relax.
One of their side effects is that they cause dependence with long term use. Examples of benzodiazepines include Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam), librium (chlordiazepoxide), Valium (diazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam). Benzodiazepines also have other side effects including drowsiness, irritability, faintness, memory problems and difficulty in paying attention and thus should be used for panic attacks when the benefit far outweigh the side effects.
Beta blockers are a class of antidepressants that help the body to regulate the fight-or-flight chemicals. This is done by preventing adrenaline from reaching the beta blockers. Due to this the heart slows down and the muscles relax including blood vessels.
How long do beta blockers take to work
Beta blockers function almost immediately
after taking them, but the full effects are seen an hour or two after taking
the medication. The beta blockers help the heart to slow down thus reducing
anxiety. This makes you feel more relaxed.
For maximum effects, beta blockers are used
together with psychotherapy or lifestyle changes or other drugs for anxiety.
Beta-blockers work best in managing short term anxiety. Examples of beta blockers are propranolol (Inderal), acebutolol (Sectral), bisoprolol (Zebeta), carvedilol (Coreg), atenolol (Tenormin), metoprolol (Lopressor).
How long do beta-blockers last? The beta-blockers when made into extended-release capsules are taken once a day. The slow-release capsule slowly releases the beta-blocker into the blood stream throughout the day meaning that the effects of beta-blockers will last for 24 hours.
Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) for anxiety:
Gaba is a naturally occurring amino acid whose function is being a neurotransmitter in the brain. They are therefore chemical messengers in the nervous system. GABA makes an individual calm when it binds to a protein in the nervous system called GABA receptor.
GABA has been shown through an article published in 2006, to have a calming effect during a stressful occasion as compared to a placebo or a L-theanine. The calming effects of GABA were experienced within an hour of taking the supplement. GABA also works for stress, Insomnia, high blood pressure and fatigue.
Other medications for panic disorders
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs):
These antidepressant drugs enable the body to increase the levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates the mood, memory, sexual desire, sleep, and appetite.
Some of the commonly used SSRIs include escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), citalopram (celexa), fluvoxamine (Luvox), Vilazodone (Viibryd), sertraline (Zoloft). They are the first line medication for anxiety disorders.
How long do SSRIs take to work? For anxiety, SSRIs take about 4 to 6 weeks of treatment to work. At that time positive improvements are noticeable.
Paxil, a SSRI, improves sleep, energy and appetite within 1-2 weeks. Having these improvements is how to tell if Paxil is working.
For maximum benefits to be felt it may take up to several months. It should be noted that people respond differently but if no positive changes are felt within 6-8 weeks inform your doctor to try a different regimen or to increase your dosage.
Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs):
The SNRIs are antidepressants that prevent the reabsorption of neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. This changes the communication and chemistry in the brain in the brain areas that are used to regulate moods, memory, sexual desire, sleep, and appetite.
Examples of SNRIs include Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq),
Duloxetine (Cymbalta), Levomilnacipran (Fetzima), Venlafaxine (Effexor XR).
the SSRIs, SNRIs take 4-6 weeks for positive changes in moods and relaxation
can occur. There are some people who claim to be getting better 2 weeks after
starting taking the medications.
If a doctor prescribes one of the medications above and it
does not work for you or gives you serious side effects, it is recommended that
you can consult the doctor for a change of drugs or dosage adjustment. In some cases, the doctor might also combine
the drug with another to boost the effects.
As discussed above, the length in time that the onset of relief from panic disorder and panic attacks should be considered before a deduction about the effectiveness of a drug is made.
It is also referred as the talk therapy. It is a very
effective treatment for anxiety attacks. It is considered a first line
treatment for anxiety attacks and panic attacks.
The treatment process done with a Psychologists, aids the individual to learn about the anxiety and get ways on how to cope, prevent or manage the anxiety. The psychotherapy gives you control over your anxiety. Without being forced by the psychologists when not ready, the patient is supposed to practice the learnt skills for to manage anxiety in real life situation out of the therapy session
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy,
demystifies to you that the panic attack symptoms are not harmful. This is done
through learning from your own experience and the therapist helps you to manage
CBT enables you to relive the symptoms of panic in a safe
manner to prove that they are not dangerous. A repetition of this process helps
the brain to learn that panic is not life threatening. In addition to that, you
learn to overcome the fears that accompany the panic which makes you to avoid
some events, situations or places.
Treatment through psychotherapy does not offer immediate
results. It takes determination and time. In some patients, relief from some panic
attack symptoms are noticed weeks after the start of the therapy but
significant drop in symptoms takes several months.
Some psychologists may employ other forms of psychotherapy like group psychotherapy and family psychotherapy to improve the prognosis of the treatment.
Transdiagnostic treatment of anxiety disorder is another method to treat anxiety disorders. The methods discussed in transdiagnostic treatment apply to several emotional disorders because they target the underlying common elements of anxiety disorders and emotional disorders.
Examples of transdiagnostic treatment of emotional disorders are the unified protocol, MATCH, CETA, cognitive therapy among others
Management of panic attacks symptoms/ Home remedies for anxiety
There are several self-care activities that can be used to
manage the symptoms of panic attacks. These steps can be used together with
getting help from a psychologist. Some of the steps that can be taken to
prevent, reduce or treat panic attack symptoms include:
- Reduce or
eliminate the intake of caffeine, alcohol, drugs or smoking. The drugs and
caffeine are one of the triggers for panic attacks. Also, it has been noted
that these substances can also worsen a panic attack.
Exercise for example aerobic activity have a calming effect during a panic
attack. Exercise improves the brain chemicals regulation and also improves
blood circulation. The two exercise effects enable you to control the anxiety
enough sleep everyday: Having enough sleep often enables the body to
regulate the brain chemicals well. This helps in reducing drowsiness the
following day and also improves the mood.
relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation,
listening to music or a massage can help you to clear the negative thoughts.
This helps you to relax when an attack sets in or even manage future attacks.
about the anxiety: Joining a support group, discussing with your family or
talking to a doctor can help in understanding how to deal with the attack. A
support group helps to know how different people are coping or managing the
symptoms. Talking to the family helps your family to know and help whenever you
have a panic attack.
stress management techniques: To help in panic attacks taking deep breaths
and counting to 10 helps in anxiety reduction. The process enables the body to
get enough oxygen while also calming the brain.
- Stick to
the treatment plan: Following a treatment plan laid down by a doctor helps
in anxiety management. It is very difficult to deal with an anxiety attack but
with proper treatment the attacks reduce in number and intensity.
Laughter is quoted as the best medicine. In anxiety, laughing reduces stress
while also helping the body to regulate the neurotransmitters.
Complications of panic attacks and panic disorder
When panic attacks and panic disorders are left unmanaged,
it can affect every facet of your life. Panic attacks are always followed by a
fear of when the next panic attack will take place. This constant living with
fear is quite debilitating.
Some of the complications that are linked to panic attacks
or may be as a result of panic attacks include:
- The panic attacks may aid in the development of
other phobias. People with panic attacks may develop fear of leaving their
homes, being in a new place or even driving.
- Have problems at school or work due to the fear.
- Having to see the doctor often for other medical
- Can increase chances of getting other mental
disorders like depression and other anxiety disorders.
- Misuse of alcohol and other substances to get
relief or try and prevent the attacks
- Having suicidal thoughts or even committing
- Financial stress due to problems with work and
The bottom line
Panic attacks markedly reduce the quality of life. They can also make you to live with fear about when the next attack will take place. The panic attacks can be treated or managed in order to improve the quality of life.
Fast acting medication for panic attacks and panic disorders will always help to relieve the symptoms of a panic attack almost immediately.
For panic disorder though, it is better to explore medications that can be used for a long time.