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Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder
Initial Panic Attack
Typically, a first panic attack seems to come "out of the blue,"
occurring while a person is engaged in some ordinary activity like driving
a car or walking to work. Suddenly, the person is struck by a barrage
of frightening and uncomfortable symptoms. These symptoms often include
terror, a sense of unreality, or a fear of losing control.
This barrage of symptoms usually lasts several seconds, but may continue
for several minutes. The symptoms gradually fade over the course of
about an hour. People who have experienced a panic attack can attest
to the extreme discomfort they felt and to their fear that they had
been stricken with some terrible, life- threatening disease or were
"going crazy." Often people who are having a panic attack
seek help at a hospital emergency room.
Initial panic attacks may occur when people are under considerable
stress, from an overload of work, for example, or from the loss of a
family member or close friend. The attacks may also follow surgery,
a serious accident, illness, or childbirth. Excessive consumption of
caffeine or use of cocaine or other stimulant drugs or medicines, such
as the stimulants used in treating asthma, can also trigger panic attacks.
Nevertheless panic attacks usually take a person completely by surprise.
This unpredictability is one reason they are so devastating.
Sometimes people who have never had a panic attack assume that panic
is just a matter of feeling nervous or anxiousthe sort of feelings
that everyone is familiar with. In fact, even though people who have
panic attacks may not show any outward signs of discomfort, the feelings
they experience are so overwhelming and terrifying that they really
believe they are going to die, lose their minds, or be totally humiliated.
These disastrous consequences don't occur, but they seem quite likely
to the person who is suffering a panic attack.
Some people who have one panic attack, or an occasional attack, never
develop a problem serious enough to affect their lives. For others,
however, the attacks continue and cause much suffering.
During a panic attack, some or all of the following symptoms occur:
- Terrora sense that something unimaginably horrible is about
- and one is powerless to prevent it
- Racing or pounding heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea
- Difficulty breathing
- Tingling or numbness in the hands
- Flushes or chills
- Sense of unreality
- Fear of losing control, going "crazy," or doing something
- Fear of dying
Some More On Panic disorder
In panic disorder, panic attacks recur and the person develops an intense
apprehension of having another attack. As noted earlier, this fearcalled
anticipatory anxiety or fear of fearcan be present most of the
time and seriously interfere with the person's life even when a panic
attack is not in progress. In addition, the person may develop irrational
fears called phobias about situations where a panic attack has occurred.
For example, someone who has had a panic attack while driving may be
afraid to get behind the wheel again, even to drive to the grocery store.
People who develop these panic-induced phobias will tend to avoid situations
that they fear will trigger a panic attack, and their lives may be increasingly
limited as a result. Their work may suffer because they can't travel
or get to work on time. Relationships may be strained or marred by conflict
as panic attacks, or the fear of them, rule the affected person and
those close to them.
Also, sleep may be disturbed because of panic attacks that occur at
night, causing the person to awaken in a state of terror. The experience
is so harrowing that some people who have nocturnal panic attacks become
afraid to go to sleep and suffer from exhaustion. Also, even if there
are no nocturnal panic attacks, sleep may be disturbed because of chronic,
Many people with panic disorder remain intensely concerned about their
symptoms even after an initial visit to a physician yields no indication
of a life- threatening condition. They may visit a succession of doctors
seeking medical treatment for what they believe is heart disease or
a respiratory problem. Or their symptoms may make them think they have
a neurological disorder or some serious gastrointestinal condition.
Some patients see as many as 10 doctors and undergo a succession of
expensive and unnecessary tests in the effort to find out what is causing
This search for medical help may continue a long time, because physicians
who see these patients may fail to diagnose panic disorder. And, when
doctors do recognize the condition, they sometimes explain it in terms
that suggest it is of no importance or not treatable. For example, the
doctor may say, "There's nothing to worry about, you're just having
a panic attack" or "It's just nerves." Although meant
to be reassuring, such words can be dispiriting to the worried patient
whose symptoms keep recurring. The patient needs to know that panic
disorder is real and that it can be treated effectively.
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