Some people feel more anxious than others. They almost seem to look for things to worry about. Minor things bother them and they constantly seek reassurance and support from those around them.

Sometimes, people with a high level of anxiety, have what appears to be attacks of pure panic. During such attacks, they feel that something terrible is going to happen, or that they are about to die.

Most of all, there are physical symptoms that become prominent.

These are:

  • feeling that one cannot breathe properly
  • racing heart
  • trembling
  • sweating
  • tingling sensations
  • hot flushes
  • nausea
  • chest pain
  • need to urinate
  • cold, clammy hands

These attacks can come on suddenly and can subside in a few minutes. In some people these can be so intense and uncomfortable that the person lives in fear of panic! More usually, the person feels certain that the reason for the attack is some physical illness, like a heart disease. People who have such attacks begin to avoid many situations that they feel may bring it on.

Why do people have panic attacks?

It is usually difficult for the family members of a person affected with panic disorder to understand why there should be such an inappropriately strong reaction to something minor. It is easy to lose patience with someone under the circumstances. The reason for someone developing this disorder are to be found in the person’s life experiences and personality, because of which, a wrong way of coping with stress has come about. Sometimes, there is some event in the past, that has frightened the person or made him or her anxious. After this, even the idea of the situation taking place again, makes the person anxious. To make matters more complicated, the person begins to feel anxious about feeling anxious! Sometimes physical illness like — Mitral Valve Prolapse Syndrome or Hyperthyroidism may present similarly but careful checking can distinguish between these.

When to seek help

  • If the attacks are affecting daily routine
  • If the person feels the need to have a constant companion for comfort.
  • If the person cannot be in certain situations that are a must or are a source of livelihood
  • If the symptoms have started causing social withdrawal or depression
  • If the episodes make a person fear for his/her life and all the physical tests and investigations are normal

Treatment of panic attacks

The disorder of panic attacks is treatable. It is usually a learned response to stress, and it can be ‘un-learned’. The psychiatrist or psychologist treating the problem will work out a programme of behavior change during which the person will be exposed to the panic producing situations. He or she will be helped to face the situation with relaxation techniques. Biofeedback can also be very helpful in reduction of anxiety. This is a machine assisted technique for relaxation but as it gives a feedback to the person about his ability to relax, it makes his/her feel in control.

In most cases, a course of medication is used to control the symptoms. The medication controls the panic attacks and generalized anxiety and does not allow the episode to progress. It also reduces the intensity of symptoms allowing the psychological help to show better results. The mental health specialist will also guides the family on how to handle the attacks. The support of the family helps a person to deviate the thoughts, from anxious situation and feel mastery over the situation.

It is best to treat the problem at the earliest as the anxiety keeps becoming generalized over a period of time leading to avoidance of situations. The most important factor is for the person to feel in control and to feel mastery over the situation. It has to be a continuous process and slowly, self confidence comes back and panic attacks disappear.