Panic attacks entail a feeling of extreme anxiety or fear that may last for anywhere between a few minutes to many hours. For an episode to qualify as a panic attack, one needs to have at least four of the numerous physical symptoms it is capable of producing. In most cases, panic attacks occur in response to certain triggers and do not assume life-threatening proportions. However, it is recommended that those prone to panic attacks, such as people with an anxiety disorder, need to develop coping mechanisms to minimize physical consequences. The following signs are considered to be symptomatic of the onset of a panic attack.
Experiencing a pain attack may cause one to hyperventilate. An individual thus affected will take rapid breaths or inhale deeply and quickly, as if not getting enough oxygen. Often, the manifestation of such symptoms further alarms the victim, thus creating a positive feedback loop. Thus, if a panic attack occurs when an individual is alone, they are at greater risk of aggravating their discomfort than alleviating it.
Those prone to panic attacks also commonly report feeling dizzy during an episode. The dizziness may be a kind of light-headedness, a sense of disequilibrium or loss of balance and in some cases, mild vertigo, which is the feeling that everything around is spinning. In most cases, the feeling passes within a few minutes. In more extreme episodes, dizziness may lead to fainting or loss of balance and falls.
With the onset of a panic attack, an individual may develop tunnel vision or the lack of ability to perceive objects in the peripheral field of vision. This occurs because with panic and stress levels rising, the body directs blood flow from the head to more crucial sites in the body for coping with the situation. The loss of peripheral vision is temporary, and with the passage of the anxiety, normal vision resumes.
Panic attacks may also cause an individual to feel a niggling pain or tightness in their chest. This pain does not have consequence vis-a-vis health but is caused due to psychological forces. A lot of times, hyperventilation and chest pain coincide with an attack. In this case, people often assume they have a heart attack. This prospect may distress them further, thus causing symptoms to worsen.
A lot of people report nausea during a panic attack. In most instances, it is a mildly nauseated feeling which rarely progresses to actual vomiting. A very severe panic attack may cause dry retching and heaving. If one is hyperventilating and heaving at the same time, there is a risk they might choke.
When extreme panic and anxiety sets in, many hormonal changes take place in the body due to stress. Several of these relate to body temperature and sensory perception. This causes the person to experience hot and cold flashes. They may think they have fever and chills, but generally, they do not have any symptoms once the episode subsides.
When a panic attack begins, there is a release of stress hormones in the body. This, coupled with the exertion associated with hyperventilation, may cause an individual to break out in a sweat. In an air-conditioned environment, the combination of excessive sweating and cold air may cause a person to feel very cold and chilly. A person who is having a panic attack should move to an environment with a neutral temperature.
It is also common for panic attack victims to experience what is medically known as Paresthesia. This is a sensation of tingling, burning or prickling of the skin that can get very distracting and discomforting. It is often described as the feeling of pins and needles or limbs falling asleep. Paresthesia may recur sporadically once the episode is over in some cases.
Fight or Flight Response
When in extreme panic, people tend to have a typical, intense “fight or flight” response to the situation that has triggered the attack. They may either become increasingly agitated and aggressive. Alternately, they may attempt to flee the situation, sometimes being uncaring of the repercussions it may have. It is noteworthy that people around someone who is experiencing a panic attack need to be wary of their actions and responses.
A panic attack may also propel an individual into a state of derealization. This entails dissociation from the external world. It is due to an alteration of perception, which makes everything seem unreal. The affected individual may withdraw into their own self and begin behaving as though other realities do not exist. Talking to them is unlikely to bring forth any satisfying response. This symptom may be confused with shock.