What are the symptoms of a panic attack?
Updated: Mar 11
If you have ever suffered a sense of fear and distress, perhaps with little or no obvious reason as to why, it could be that you have suffered a panic attack. It may be that you suddenly started sweating, began trembling, or perhaps your heart felt like it was going to beat itself right out of your chest.
Whatever the symptoms, a panic attack is involuntary, uncomfortable, and usually occurs without warning. I say ‘whatever the symptoms’, because the symptoms of panic attacks are usually different for different people. In fact, figuring out whether your episode is a panic attack can be hard. This blog post will help you identify if you are having panic attacks – and that’s the first step to stopping them.
How common are panic attacks?
As humans, we often feel alone with our problems, as if no one else experiences the same difficulties. Though it may not be much consolation, panic attacks are more common than many think.
In a world survey of nearly 143,000 people from 18 countries, it was found that 13.2% of people suffered panic attacks over their lifetime (1). They are more common in high-income countries. For example, in the United States, the prevalence of panic attacks was 27.3%. That’s one in every four people!
How do you know you are having a panic attack?
From television programmes, you’d be forgiven if you think that the classic panic attack leaves you gasping for breath and clutching at your chest – similar to a heart attack. While this might be the case, there are many different symptoms associated with panic attacks, and they can combine in a multitude of ways.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, also known as the DSM-5, panic attacks are characterised by a sudden onset of intense apprehension or fear, accompanied by at least four of the following symptoms (2):
1. Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
3. Trembling or shaking
4. Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
5. Feeling of choking
6. Chest pain or discomfort
7. Nausea or abdominal distress
8. Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or faint
9. Derealisation (feelings of unreality) or depersonalisation (being detached from oneself)
10. Fear of losing control or going crazy
11. Fear of dying
12. Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
13. Chills or heat sensations
This means that there are more than 17,000 combinations of symptoms that you could suffer during a panic attack. No wonder they are so difficult to identify.
What to do if you have a panic attack
If you suspect that you are experiencing a panic attack, it’s important to remain calm, breath deeply and slowly, and relax the muscles in your neck, shoulders and arms. In my next blog post, I’ll discuss how to stop a panic attack in more detail, including how to find a long-term solution.
Remember, too, that you don’t have to suffer from stress and anxiety. Get in touch with me now, and let’s work together to destress your life.
Live life to the fullest
1. de Jonge P, Roest AM, Lim CCW, Florescu SE, Bromet EJ, Stein DJ, et al. Cross-national epidemiology of panic disorder and panic attacks in the world mental health surveys. Depress Anxiety. 2016;33(12):1155–77.
2. Drenckhan I, Glöckner-Rist A, Rist F, Richter J, Gloster AT, Fehm L, et al. Dimensional structure of bodily panic attack symptoms and their specific connections to panic cognitions, anxiety sensitivity and claustrophobic fears. Psychol Med. 2015;45(8):1675–85.