What Is Acute Panic Disorder? How Severe Panic Attacks Are Treated

It’s common for most of us to experience the occasional anxiety attack. Experiencing anxiety is nothing new, and it’s something we all encounter from time to time. Perhaps you’re going out on a big date tomorrow with someone new and feeling some nerves, or maybe today is your wedding day, and you’re overcome with emotions. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s considered a positive reaction to stimuli, which means your body is doing its job. While the occasional anxiety is OK, others might be battling something sinister like acute panic disorder, which leads to powerful panic attacks. If you’ve been experiencing these for no reason, you might wonder how severe panic attacks are treated.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, an estimated  experience panic attacks. Unfortunately, 2 percent to 3 percent of them will develop panic disorder. Panic attacks typically occur for the first time during the teen or early adult years but can happen at all ages. Even children are prone to panic attacks, depending on their background. The study also states that women are twice as likely to develop panic disorder than men. The cause of panic attacks and why people develop panic disorders is still unknown. However, the brain and nervous system play a role in how we tolerate fear and anxiety.

Those with a family history of anxiety disorders, such as panic disorders, are more prone to developing the condition. Experts aren’t quite sure why. Those with mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses, are at an increased risk of having panic attacks. Those who misuse and abuse drugs or alcohol increase their chances as well. Panic attacks can range from mild to severe. Some people report being completely debilitated as a result of their attack.

If you’ve had panic attacks and think you might have panic disorder, it’s important to learn more about it and how severe panic attacks are treated. Below, we’ll delve into the topic and provide some more information on what you can do.

What Is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder that causes regular panic attacks. It consists of repeated episodes of intense fear that are tied to physical symptoms, including heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or abdominal distress. These symptoms typically pop up out of the blue without any fear or stressor.

Panic attacks include physical symptoms similar to those of a heart attack. They also include rapid heart rate and tingling. Many people diagnosed with the condition are on guard and worry about having another attack. It’s bad enough to alter their quality of life. Panic attacks can arise frequently. For some people, they can happen several times a day or as little as a few times a year.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 25.7 percent of panic disorder among adults in the United States was considered mild, while 29.5 percent was moderate, and 44.8 percent was severe.

Signs and Symptoms of Panic Disorder

Those with panic disorder can experience

  • An intense worry about the next time an attack can occur
  • Sudden attacks of overwhelming anxiety and fear
  • Feeling like they are out of control or fear they will die
  • Stomach pain, chest pain, or difficulty breathing

What Is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is defined as an abrupt episode of sudden, intense feelings of discomfort or fear. Panic is considered the most acute form of anxiety, causing our bodies to go into fight-or-flight mode. During this stage, we’re ready to escape from danger, even if no physical source of trouble presents itself. This leads to the physical and mental symptoms of a panic attack and a buildup of extreme anxiety-ridden thoughts.

When an individual has a panic attack, they believe they are dying or that they’re losing their sanity once it comes on. It can be extremely distressing for the person. However, no health risks are involved. Most panic attacks last anywhere from five to 20 minutes. Once complete, most symptoms associated with the panic attack will retreat. Medical experts recommend practicing specific techniques, such as breathing during an attack, to help them feel better faster.

Panic attacks don’t discriminate and affect people of all ages. They can also occur anywhere, no matter what you’re doing. It’s common to experience one or two panic attacks at some point in your life without developing a full-blown panic disorder. However, if this occurs more frequently, you’ll need to see a doctor to determine what’s going on. Panic attacks are often linked to stressful life events, such as losing a job, going through a divorce, or the death of a loved one. However, sometimes identifying a trigger is impossible.

If you endure persistent panic attacks, you likely have a condition known as panic disorder. However, a medical or mental health professional is the only one who can diagnose this. Fortunately, the condition is treatable through a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Recurrent Panic Attacks

In some cases, a person will be so stressed about a panic attack that they’ll experience another one after the first. These are known as recurrent panic attacks and can be very stressful. Fortunately, there aren’t any long-term health consequences as a result. Learning breathing exercises and other coping techniques can help you calm down.

Nocturnal Panic Attacks

Unfortunately, it’s also possible to have a panic attack while you’re asleep, something known as “nocturnal panic attacks.” These involve waking up in the middle of a panic attack. They are no different from regular panic attacks that happen while conscious. These are common in those diagnosed with panic disorder.

Is It a Panic Attack or Heart Attack?

It’s challenging to distinguish the difference between a heart attack and a panic attack. During a panic attack, it’s common for someone to convince themselves they’re having a heart attack. However, this is likely related to the stress they’re experiencing. If you genuinely believe you’re having a heart attack, please don’t wait to call emergency services. Heart attacks require immediate medical attention. Some of the differences include the location of the tingling, how much your breathing increases if you vomit, and the pain you experience all over your chest. If you have a history of heart attacks, meet the criteria for a heart attack, and have never had a panic attack before, you must seek help.

What Triggers Panic Attacks?

Stress is the main driver behind panic attacks. Life events can cause you to experience the condition in the short term. For example, if you’re boarding an airplane and have a fear of flying, or you’re set to give a presentation and have a fear of public speaking, these can cause panic attacks. Unhealthy relationships can also cause panic attacks. These are the most common triggers.

However, it’s also common not to know the trigger of panic attacks. When these occur, people describe their mental state as relaxed before the attack, meaning the anxious thoughts that lead to panic attacks are subconscious.

How Severe Panic Attacks Are Treated

Unfortunately, severe panic attacks are a common part of some people’s lives. There are ways to treat them. Getting counseling and going through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help those with panic attacks and panic disorder. It enables you to change how you see these frightening situations and teaches you new ways to approach challenges that arise.

Benzodiazepines are another means of treating panic disorders. However, these should only be reserved for severe panic attacks as they can be highly addictive. They won’t treat the underlying factors that cause panic attacks but are beneficial in the midst of an attack. Since benzos are a prescription medication, you’ll need a panic disorder diagnosis for a doctor to give you them.

As mentioned above, breathing exercises can also help you with panic attacks, but you should speak with your doctor to determine the best course of action in your situation. Each case is unique. Some people may need medication, while others will respond well to therapy. You might need a combination of both, but you won’t know what you need until you speak to a professional.

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