The anxiety crisis, known in the field of psychology as panic attacks, affects approximately 3% of the world population, although it is estimated that the incidence is probably higher since many people do not seek medical help and fail to be diagnosed.
The first panic attack can occur at any time and at any age, although symptoms usually appear during adolescence or early adulthood and then diminish when the person is getting older. It is also known that is much more common in women than in men.
After the first panic attack occurred, it is likely that the experience be repeated unless we take care of it. Thus, it is generated a vicious circle of fear and tension that fuels the anxiety and panic triggering other events. However, the good news is that treatment for panic attacks is usually very effective: between 70 and 90% of people who undergo therapy obtain to control the symptoms.
However, we must remember that the sooner we submit to treatment, the shorter it will be and with better results. Therefore it is very important to learn to identify the symptoms of panic attacks.
The main symptoms of panic attacks
- Profuse sweating
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath or difficulty to breath
- Thoracic tightness
- Palpitations and increased heart rate
- Feeling of choking
- Dizziness, loss of balance and/or fainting
- Tingling or numbness
- Chills or hot flashes
As you can see, most of the symptoms of panic attacks are similar to those experienced during a heart attack, so many people are afraid to even think that they are on the verge of death. This is because during these episodes our body reacts by producing the "stress hormones" that are generating all those symptoms.
How to differentiate a panic attack from a heart attack?
The anxiety crisis are often accompanied by:
- Feelings of unreality or depersonalization; it means the person feels be separated from the body
- Fear of losing control
Moreover, a panic attack is almost always preceded by high-stress situations, such as loss of a beloved one, an overly stressful work project or a family conflict. In many cases, the person also usually lived previously small episodes with milder signs such as nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath and palpitations.
Another key factor for differentiation is time. The panic attack symptoms usually begin abruptly and reach a peak during the first 10 minutes and then fade away. In heart attacks pain usually lasts a few minutes, it can leave and then return. However, in the case of the first episode the best is to seek medical care immediately. This will determine if it was a heart attack or an anxiety crisis.
In fact, we shouldn’t forget a study conducted at the Massachusetts General Hospital, according to which, menopausal women who had had a panic attack in the past six months had four times more the risk of suffering an heart attack and are three times more likely to have a stroke over a period of five years.
Smoller, J. W. et. Al. (2007) Panic attacks and risk of incident cardiovascular events among postmenopausal women in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study. Archives of General Psychiatry; 64(10):1153-1160.
APA (2002) DSM-IV-TR: Manual diagnóstico y estadístico de los trastornos mentales. Barcelona: Masson.
Panic attacks: How to recognize the symptoms?Jennifer Delgado