Panic Attack - Signs, Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Panic Attack - Signs, Causes, Prevention and Treatment



Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that is characterised by spontaneous, unexpected panic attacks which are sudden feelings of terror when there is no real danger according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). 

People suffering from panic disorder are very worried about having another panic attack. They avoid places, situations or behaviours that they feel are associated with the panic attacks, in order to prevent future attacks says Dr.R.K. Suri - clinical psychologist in Delhi. As a result, panic disorder may significantly interfere with their daily life.

Panic disorder often leads to a phobia, because once people experience a panic attack, they may start to avoid situations like the one they were in when the attack took place according to the best psychologist in India. For example, a person having a panic attack while going in a lift, begins to avoid using the lift, and then develops an actual phobia about the lift.

The distinctive symptom of panic disorder is the persistent fear of having future panic attacks, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). If a person experiences four or more panic attacks, particularly if he has had a panic attack and is constantly worried about having another one, he may have panic disorder.

Panic attack and anxiety attack

You might hear the terms "anxiety attack" and "panic attack" used interchangeably, as if both are same thing. According to the best psychologist in India, though some of the symptoms of both are similar, including a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and dizziness however, it is distinctively observed that panic and anxiety attacks have different features.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), uses the term "panic attack" to describe the unique features associated with the panic disorder. However, panic attacks may occur in other psychiatric disorders and it is also possible to have a panic attack even when there is no disorder.

The DSM-5 does not define the term “anxiety attack”, rather, "anxiety" is used to explain core feature of several illnesses identified under the headings of anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and trauma- and stressor-related disorders.

A panic attack is an intense and sudden feeling of fear, terror, or discomfort accompanied by several other mental and physical symptoms.  Anxiety, on the other hand, is part of the emotional and protective responses innately coded into the human body. 


Signs and Symptoms of Panic Disorder and Anxiety

Panic Attack



  • Feelings of unreality (derealization)

  • Feeling detached from oneself (depersonalization)

  • Fear of losing control or going crazy

  • Fear of dying

  • Difficulty concentrating


  • Irritability


  • Restlessness


  • Heart palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate

  • Excessive sweating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Sensations of shortness of breath, difficulty breathing

  • Feeling of choking

  • Chest pain

  • Nausea or abdominal distress

  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint

  • Numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesia)

  • Chills

  • Hot flashes

  • Fatigue


  • Muscle tension


  • Disturbed sleep


  • Increased startle response


  • Increased heart rate


  • Dizziness

Causes and Risk Factors of Panic Disorder

There is no clarity on the exact causes of panic disorder but, American Psychological Association (APA), has the information about causes, side effects, and treatment of panic disorder on their website. As per APA, some evidences are found related to the following theories:

  • Life transitions:

Major life events, such as graduating from college, getting married, or having a first child, seem to be connected to panic disorder. The recent loss of or separation from a loved one has also been linked to panic disorder.

  • Genetic predisposition:

If a family member has symptoms of panic disorder, it increases the risk of having a panic attack. 

  • Biological malfunction:

Panic disorder could also be due to a biological malfunction, but more research needs to be done.

  • A physical and psychological combination:

If a person experiences a racing heartbeat caused by drinking coffee, exercising, or taking a medication and he thinks it is a panic attack, he may trigger an actual panic attack.


Risk Factors

According to ‘Mayo Clinic’, few factors that may increase the risk of having panic attacks or panic disorder are as:

  • Major life stressors, such as serious illness of a loved one

  • Traumatic events such as sexual assault or a serious accident

  • Smoking or excessive caffeine intake

  • Being physically or sexually abused in childhood

Prevention of Panic Attacks

Panic disorder can’t be prevented or cured entirely however, panic attacks can be prevented by identifying the personal triggers and proactively taking care of them. Panic disorder varies greatly from person to person which is the underlying reason for unavailability of permanent cure. 

There are some adaptable changes in the lifestyle which may reduce the frequency and severity of the panic attacks, like:


  • Get regular yoga exercise

  • Get sound sleep

  • Eat a healthy diet at regular mealtimes

  • Avoid alcohol

  • Reduce or avoid caffeine, certain cold medicines, and stimulants

  • Manage stress (breathe deeply, listen to binaural beats, warm hands or massage the scalp) 


Sooner the treatment for panic attacks is taken, better the prevention of panic attacks from getting worse or happening frequently. 

Suggested Treatment for Panic Disorder

Some of the most common treatment options include therapy, prescription medications, and self-help strategies. 

  • Psychotherapy helps in getting clarity on underlying symptoms, develop ways to manage them, work through past pain, determine the path for the future, and gain a clearer perspective to build a hopeful outlook.

  • Medications may help in reducing the symptoms. Sometimes they may be consumed only for a short period to control symptoms and get leverage to carry on other strategies. One should consult the doctor before taking herbal supplements or over-the-counter medications, because certain substances may increase anxiety.

  • Self-help techniques, such as breathing exercises and progressive relaxation, can be beneficial in allowing us to work through symptom management at a patient's own pace.


Panic disorder is often a chronic condition with no certainty of permanent cure; however, most people with panic disorder experience some symptom relief through treatment. Main goal of treatment for the suffering person is to learn that panic sensations are normal and uncomfortable, but for any reason it is not dangerous.