What are panic attacks?

In this brief article, we will be discussing the definition of panic attacks, the symptoms of panic attacks, and several topics that are covered under panic attacks.

What are panic attacks in psychological abnormality?

Panic attacks are an intense surge of extreme fear and worries that combine to create psychological distress in an affected person.

The affected person may even feel that they are about to die and they feel like they are going crazy. 

The distressing part about panic attacks is that they come unexpected and may last longer.

These kinds of attacks can occur even when you are calm or asleep.

A panic attack can happen at only one time but there are affected people out there who experience re-occurring episodes.

Some affected people would have these kinds of attacks when they go to their feared situations such as being on a bridge. 

This feared situation can bring you back to normal once the initial threat is gone.

Also, you can have panic attacks and still have a normal and an almost stress-free life. 

You may even have re-occurring panic attacks because of the psychological disorder you have which can be a panic disorder, depression, or social phobia.

Whatever the cause, these kinds of attacks can be treated easily. 

There are techniques that are taught in psychotherapy about dealing with your panic attacks which will be discussed in the further section.

Additionally, many people confuse panic attacks with anxiety attacks, unaware of their differences. However, the treatment plans are quite similar.

What are panic attacks?

Symptoms and signs of panic attacks

The symptoms and signs of panic attacks can happen suddenly and may last 10 minutes which are commonly recorded.

Although some affected people have these kinds of attacks for 20 to 30 minutes and it is very rare that someone can have these attacks over an hour. 

Panic attacks have the potential to happen at any place and at any time.

You may be going to other settings such as going to a shopping mall, sailing in a ship to go somewhere else or taking your dog to the park.

Here are the signs and symptoms of panic attacks:

  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation in breathing
  • Heart palpitations or speeding heart
  • Chest ache or discomfort
  • Trembling or constant shaking
  • Choking feeling
  • Feeling unreal or getting away from your surroundings
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or upset, sick stomach
  • Feeling dizzy, faint or light-headed
  • Numbness or tingling feelings
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Fear of dying, going crazy or lacking control

You can learn more about how these symptoms of panic attacks feel in affected people by buying this book on this website.

What is panic disorder in psychological abnormality?

Panic disorder is a kind of psychological disorder where panic attacks are recurrent and they tend to be unexpected which makes the affected person fear of their return.

The symptom of being afraid of having these kinds of attacks again has made this kind of psychological disorder grouped under anxiety disorders. 

The anxiety of having panic attacks may make these affected people to minimize these kinds of attacks by preventing situations that may trigger them.

However, this constant avoidance may only make these kinds of attacks worse than they were before.

Some of these panic attacks can occur due to the presence of a certain external stimulus.

These external stimuli are those situations or objects that can be observed and erratically reacted by people with these kinds of attacks. 

Panic disorder can also be comorbid with other related psychological disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse disorders, and other anxiety disorders.

When this kind of situation occurs, the patient is more likely to be diagnosed with the comorbid disorder which leaves the diagnosis and treatment of panic disorder unavailable especially if this was the original disorder that may have caused the other comorbid disorder. 

Signs and symptoms of panic disorder

Many people tend to experience a few panic attacks but a select few will have several panic attacks that can happen repeatedly.

This is what develops a panic disorder where there is the fear of having other panic attacks and having recurrent panic episodes.

You may have a panic disorder with recurrent panic attacks if you have the following signs and symptoms:

  • Encounter regular and unexpected panic attacks that aren’t connected to a specific circumstance
  • Worry and fear a lot about having another panic attack
  • Are acting distinctly because of the panic attacks such as preventing places where you’ve formerly panicked
  • While one panic attack may only last a few minutes, the effects of this kind of encounter can leave a lasting impact. If you have panic disorder, the recurrent and repetitive forms of these attacks take an emotional impact. The memory of the extreme fear and terror that you felt during these kinds of attacks can negatively affect your self-esteem and trigger chronic interruption to your daily life. Gradually, this distress leads to the following panic disorder symptoms and signs:

Anticipatory anxiety – this is the kind of feeling that instead of feeling calm and like your normal self in between panic attacks, you feel anxious and nervous.

This kind of anxiety comes from a fear or anxiety of having further panic attacks.

This hyperactive fear of fear is manifested most of the time and can be excessively dysfunctional.

Phobic avoidance – You start to prevent specific circumstances or surroundings. This kind of avoidance may depend on the assumption that the circumstance you’re preventing caused a former panic attack.

Or you may get away from places or areas where escape would be hard or help would be inaccessible if you had this kind of attack in that place.

In its chronic form, phobic avoidance can turn into agoraphobia.

You can learn more about anticipatory anxiety by buying this book on this website.

Causes and risk factors of panic attacks

What causes panic attacks? The direct triggers of panic attacks are still unclear but there is countless evidence that these kinds of attacks run in families.

Also, these kinds of attacks can be triggered when an affected person is going through a major life event such as going to college or having a baby. 

Chronic stress from distressing situations can also cause panic attacks.

Additionally, these kinds of attacks can occur when an affected person has a physical disease. 

If you may have the signs and symptoms of a panic attack, you should consult with a doctor to make sure you don’t have the following conditions to make sure that this is really this kind of attack:

  • Mitral valve prolapse which is an acute cardiac complication that happens when one of the heart’s valves doesn’t close appropriately
  • Hyperthyroidism which is an overstimulated thyroid gland
  • Hypoglycemia which is low blood sugar
  • Stimulant use and abuse such as amphetamines, caffeine or cocaine
  • Medication withdrawal

Complications of untreated panic attacks

If panic attacks are left untreated, you might be suffering complications that can come with these kinds of attacks.

The fear of having another one of these attacks can bring you so much dysfunction and distress in your life that you might not enjoy your fun activities anymore.

Here are the following complications that can be triggered by panic attacks or associate with them:

  • Development of specific phobias such as fear of flying or leaving your home
  • Regular medical care for health issues and other medical disorders
  • Withdrawal from social circumstances
  • Difficulties at work or school
  • Anxiety disorders, depression and other psychological disorders
  • Enhanced potential of suicide or suicidal ideation
  • Alcohol or other substance abuse
  • Financial problems

Sometimes, panic attacks can co-occur with agoraphobia where you get these kinds of attacks when you are in large crowds and fear that you can’t get away from this detrimental situation.

It may even come to the point that you can’t leave the house without someone accompanying you.

Psychological treatments for people with panic attacks

Psychological treatments for people with panic attacks can help the affected person minimize the occurrence of these kinds of attacks and help them be more functional in life.

Psychotherapies and anti-anxiety medications are the most common treatments for these kinds of attacks.

In relation to your symptoms and signs of panic attacks, you may be prescribed with 1 or 2 psychological treatments for these kinds of attacks.

Psychological therapies

You can refer yourself to a psychotherapist in your area, especially those mental health professionals who specialize in CBT.

You can also ask your general practitioner if they can refer you to a therapist who can help with your panic attacks.

The therapist will ask you how you feel when you are having a panic attack and when does this often occur to you.

The therapist will then suggest some strategies that you can do to minimize the distressing feelings associated with these attacks such as doing breathing exercises.

You need to visit your general practitioner in the course of your therapy treatment so that he or she can check your mental health progress.

You can learn more about cognitive-behavioural therapy can be beneficial in treating your panic attacks by buying this book on this website.


If your doctor might assess that anti-anxiety medications can treat your panic attacks, you might be prescribed with 1 or 2 of the following:

  • a form of antidepressant medication called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or if these medications aren’t appropriate, a tricyclic antidepressant often imipramine or clomipramine
  • an anti-epilepsy medication such as pregabalin or if your anxiety is chronic, clonazepam which are medicines that are also advantageous for treating anxiety

Antidepressant medication can take 2 to 4 weeks for you to see your improvement from panic attacks but it will take 8 weeks to feel the full effect.

You need to speak to your general practitioner if you need to stop your medication or reduce the dosage and don’t be hasty about doing these actions.

Referral to a panic attack specialist

If your symptoms of panic attacks don’t go away due to psychotherapies or medications, you will be referred by your general practitioner to a specialist that can help you with these attacks.

This specialist can be a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist who can help you by assessing your symptoms and signs and engaging in a treatment protocol that can help you minimize your symptoms for a long time or a short time.

If you are feeling hesitant about going to a specialist, you can read some tips on how you can open up about your panic attacks in this book that can be bought here. 


In this brief article, we have discussed the definition of panic attacks, the symptoms of panic attacks, and several topics that are covered under panic attacks.

If you have any questions about these facts about panic attacks, please let us know and we will gladly answer.

FAQs: What are panic attacks

Is there a difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack?

The difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack is that an anxiety attack only occurs in a short time due to a specific anxious situation or object while a panic attack tends to have anxious symptoms for a long time which can cause significant distress in a person.

What does a panic attack feel like?

A panic attack feels like that you have an ongoing rapid heart rate, shaking, constantly sweating, shortness of breath, hot flashes, and lightheadedness, sensing that you are about to face impending doom, chills, abdominal pain, feeling a bit nauseated all the time, chest pain, headache, and numbness or tingling.

Are Panic Attacks Dangerous?

Panic attacks are not dangerous despite the symptoms with these attacks but this is a serious condition that needs to be treated.

These kinds of attacks only feel dangerous since you will be facing physical symptoms that feel like you are about to die.

 Should I go to the ER for a panic attack?

You can go to the ER for a panic attack but the doctor will be referring you to a psychologist if you were found to be experiencing panic attacks.

The ER can try minimizing some of your symptoms to help you get stabilized to meet with the referred therapist.

At what age do panic attacks start?

The age when panic attacks start is 25 years old but may also happen between the ages of 30 and above.

Sometimes, these kinds of attacks may come in the younger years if the child is already susceptible to these kinds of attacks.


HelpGuide. Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder.

MAYO CLINIC. Panic attacks and panic disorder.

Mind. Anxiety and panic attacks.

NHS. Panic disorder.