Panic Attacks: The Story of an Overpowering Fear

pharmacist giving out information

Panic attacks are when you experience a sudden feeling of intense fear with no apparent threat or danger.  This triggers a "fight or flight" response in your body, making your heart rate increase.  You may experience a feeling of shortness of breath, dizziness, shaking, or a fear of dying.  The exact cause of panic attacks is unknown.  At this time, there are two main treatment options available – medications and therapy.

Share This Post

“One day, without any warning or reason, a feeling of terrible anxiety came crashing down on me. I felt like I couldn’t get enough air, no matter how hard I breathed. My heart was pounding out of my chest, and I thought I might die. I was sweating and felt dizzy. I felt like I had no control over these feelings and like I was drowning and couldn’t think straight.

“After what seemed like an eternity, my breathing slowed and I eventually let go of the fear and my racing thoughts, but I was totally drained and exhausted. These attacks started to occur every couple of weeks, and I thought I was losing my mind. My friend saw how I was struggling and told me to call my doctor for help.”

This is an example of what it feels like to have a panic attack.  Have you ever experienced anything like this?

Panic Attack Overview

A panic attack is a sudden feeling of intense fear when there is no apparent threat or danger.

You may experience a single panic attack or multiple panic attacks throughout your life. 

Panic attacks can be a symptom of panic disorder, a condition where someone experiences panic attacks and are overcome with the fear of having another attack. 

Panic disorder can interfere with daily life, causing someone to avoid situations due to their fear of having an attack.

Anyone can experience a panic attack, but they occur in twice as many women than men.

What are the Symptoms of a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks trigger your “fight or flight” response when you are in a dangerous situation. 

During a panic attack, the symptoms seem to come out of nowhere.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a panic attack includes at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or increased heart rate
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Feeling of shortness of breath
  • Feeling of choking
  • Chest pain or chest discomfort
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, or feeling faint
  • Chills
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Feeling of unreality or being detached from oneself
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of dying

Although panic attacks can feel like the most frightening, shocking, and uncomfortable experience in a person’s life, they typically last between 10-15 minutes and are not life-threatening.

Panic attack symptoms can be similar to those of some life-threatening conditions, such as a heart attack.  If you are experiencing symptoms of a panic attack, it is best to seek medical attention right away.

What can Cause a Panic Attack?

The exact cause of panic attacks is not fully understood. There are indications that it may be a combination of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors.

For example, a panic attack can be caused by an over-responsive amygdala, the brain’s fear center. 

In some cases, panic attacks may be linked to an underlying mental health condition:

  • Agoraphobia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

Stressful life events can also trigger panic attacks, such as a recent loss, public speaking, or flying. 

YouTube player

Can you Treat Panic Attacks?

The most common treatments are medications and therapy sessions.

Talk therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you understand and how to change your behaviors.  During a talk therapy session, you may learn how to:

  • Understand distorted views of life stressors
  • Manage stress and learn to relax when symptoms occur
  • Practice in real-life situations to overcome fears
  • Recognize and replace thoughts that cause panic

Medications may also treat panic attacks.  Doctors may prescribe one of the following: classes of medications:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRIs)
  • Beta-blockers
  • Benzodiazepines

For questions about these medications, speak with your primary care provider or pharmacist.

Other potential ways to help combat panic attacks are following a healthy lifestyle, getting enough sleep, and exercising.

The Bottom Line

Panic attacks occur when there is a sudden feeling of fear with no apparent threat or danger.  Women are twice as likely to experience a panic attack compared to men.

Panic attacks trigger a “fight or flight” response in your body, and symptoms may include a pounding heart, dizziness, a fear of dying or shaking/trembling.

The exact cause of panic attacks is unknown.  There may be a combination of factors such as genetic, biological, psychological, or environmental.

The two main treatment options include medications or therapy.  Healthy lifestyle choices, exercise, and adequate sleep may also help combat panic attacks.  Contact your primary care provider to discuss what treatment options might be best for you.

References, Studies and Sources:

Panic disorder: When fear overwhelms. National Institute of Mental Health website. Updated 2016. Accessed September 23, 2020.

Answers to Your Questions About Panic Disorder. American Psychological Association website. Accessed September 23, 2020.

Panic Disorder. Anxiety and Depression Association of America website. Accessed September 23, 2020.

Symptoms. Anxiety and Depression Association of America website. Accessed September 23, 2020.

Pollack MH, Marzol PC. Panic: course, complications and treatment of panic disorder. J Psychopharmacol. 2000;14(2 Suppl 1):S25-30. doi: 10.1177/02698811000142S104. PMID: 10888028.

Panic disorder. MedlinePlus website. Accessed September 23, 2020.

We are committed to providing our readers with only trusted resources and science-based studies with regards to medication and health information. 

Disclaimer: This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. If you suspect medical problems or need medical help or advice, please talk with your healthcare professional.

Share This Post Discount Club

Get Started for $1.

  • Cheapest cash pay option at your retail pharmacy
  • 1,000s of drugs below $10.00 that can beat your co-pay
  • Start for $1 for your first month. Cancel anytime. 
  • Tell us your meds, we tell you the cheapest options.

Popular Destinations

Recent Articles

trusted pharmacists giving patient information

Does Taking Effexor Cause Weight Gain?

Taking Effexor may cause weight gain in some patients. Weight gain is a common side effect of Effexor and other antidepressant medications, and more than half of patients on newer classes of antidepressants report experiencing weight gain.

Read More »

Cerebral Review: Online Depression & Anxiety Treatment

Today, we’re deep diving with a Cerebral review to give you some insider info to help you narrow down your choices.

We review and include products we think are useful for our community. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a commission. For more info, please read our ad policy, content principles and vetting policy.

Read More »

Share On:

More To Explore

Does Taking Effexor Cause Weight Gain?

Taking Effexor may cause weight gain in some patients. Weight gain is a common side effect of Effexor and other antidepressant medications, and more

How Long Does Lexapro Take To Work?

If you are considering taking Lexapro for your depression or anxiety, you might be wondering how long it takes to work.

Zoloft and Weight Loss: Everything You Need To Know

When it comes to Zoloft and weight loss, here’s everything you need to know.

Cerebral Review: Online Depression & Anxiety Treatment

Today, we’re deep diving with a Cerebral review to give you some insider info to help you narrow down your choices.

We review and include

What are the signs of Depression?

In this article, we will discuss the signs and symptoms of depression as well as some treatment options for this condition.

Can You Use Gabapentin For Anxiety?

While Neurontin is the most common brand name for gabapentin, other forms (such as Horizant and Gralise) may be prescribed depending on the specific

What is Zoloft?

If you have been recently diagnosed with depression and are given Zoloft, you may want to know how the medication works, what common side

What is Venlafaxine HCL ER?

The prescription drug belongs to a class of drugs called selective serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor antidepressants (SNRIs), which are commonly used to treat mental

Using Prozac With Alcohol: What Are the Risks?

Prozac can be used to treat many different mental health conditions, is associated with a relatively low risk of side effects, and causes the

How Long Does Clonazepam Stay in Your System?

This fast-acting medication is known for being effective at panic attacks, but how long does clonazepam stay in your system?

What is Sertraline and What are the Side Effects?

Sertraline is the generic form of Zoloft, a medication that belongs to a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs like

Turn On, Tune In, and…. Heal Your Brain? Psychedelics Return as Potential Therapy for Mental Health Disorders

Before they fell out of favor over half a century ago, psychedelic drugs, like psilocybin and LSD, were studied for various psychiatric diseases such

How Long Does Alprazolam Stay in Your System?

Alprazolam is a fast-acting medication, but exactly how long alprazolam stays in your body varies tremendously based on the form of the medication taken,

Paxil vs Zoloft: Differences, Similarities and Which is Better

When it comes to Paxil vs. Zoloft, which is better?

A Supplement for Stress? The Science Behind Adaptogens

Stress is part of all our lives. Adaptogens are a group of herbal supplements studied throughout history as a way to improve the body’s

Does Buspirone Cause Weight Gain?

Many antidepressants can cause weight gain as a side effect. Buspirone may cause an altered appetite as a side effect, which can lead to

Duloxetine Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline, and Treatment

Duloxetine withdrawal is very common and well documented, affecting nearly half of all patients. Common withdrawal symptoms include dizziness, headaches, and nausea, and symptoms

Cymbalta vs. Prozac: Comparison Guide

Cymbalta and Prozac are commonly prescribed medications to treat mental health conditions such as major depressive disorder. The medications are similarly effective, although one

How Long Does Ativan Stay in Your System?

If you use Ativan to manage your health but are curious about how long Ativan lasts in your system, we have all the information

Why is Mental Health Important?

As the saying goes, “There is no health without mental health,” but why is mental health so important? The reality is that although we

What is BuSpar? Uses, Costs, Benefits, and Doses

If you’re one of 40 million American adults suffering from an anxiety disorder or experiencing symptoms of anxiety, you might think that your battle

What are Long-Acting Injectable Antipsychotics? 

Long-acting injectable (LAI) antipsychotics have been shown to prevent psychosis relapse in patients with schizophrenia. To combat poor medication adherence, LAIs are a great

Cymbalta vs Effexor: Differences and Side Effects

Effexor and Cymbalta are antidepressants used for the treatment of major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Although both medications are FDA-approved, Effexor and

Celexa vs Lexapro: Which is Better For Depression?

Both are regarded as equally effective drugs for treating depression. Find out the core difference between Celexa vs. Lexpro now!

What is Ativan? Uses, Costs, Benefits, Doses

More than 40 million adults in the United States are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, making it the most common mental illness in the

Lexapro Overdose: Signs, Symptoms, and Precautions

We’ve put together a list of the signs and symptoms to look out for when it comes to Lexapro overdose and some of the

Using Lorazepam with Alcohol: What Are the Risks?

Using lorazepam with alcohol is incredibly dangerous but can be a common occurrence, and is associated with potentially life-threatening side effects, which are outlined

Using Citalopram with Alcohol: What Are the Risks?

Mixing antidepressants with alcohol is always potentially dangerous, but using citalopram with alcohol is particularly unsafe due to the high potential for life-threatening side

Brightside Health Review: Is This Depression & Anxiety Care Useful?

Brightside is an online mental healthcare company that provides treatment services for a range of issues related to anxiety and depression. These conditions include

SonderMind Reviews: Pros & Cons of Their Therapy Services

SonderMind is a virtual mental health service that makes therapy and psychiatry more accessible. Find out if the pros outweigh the cons.

We review and