Panic attacks are episodes of intense fear that tend to trigger extreme physical reactions. In some cases, the experience can be so intense that a person might think that they are dying or having a heart attack.
Most people have around two panic attacks during the course of their life, on average. However, for some individuals, they may be more frequent. This can create a fear that the panic attacks will repeat themselves, something called panic disorder.
People who experience panic attacks often experience a sense of impending danger or doom, fear of loss of control, a rapid heart rate, uncontrollable sweating and hot flashes. They may also have dizziness, lightheadedness or trembling.
Who is at risk?
The NHS says that several groups in the population are more at risk of panic attacks than others. For instance, late teens and those in early adulthood appear to experience more panic attacks, as do women. You are also more likely to experience a panic attack if you have a family history of them or are going through a major stressful life event. Panic attacks are more common in people who smoke or drink coffee.
Are panic attacks dangerous?
Panic attacks themselves are unlikely to lead to any lasting damage to the body. However, they can lead to knock-on mental health issues.
For instance, people who have panic attacks may be less willing to socialise or use healthcare discounts on nights out with their friends. They may also develop specific phobias of certain situations, such as the fear of driving or leaving home, or problems at work or school. Some people use alcohol to help them mask their fears, leading to substance abuse.
How to prevent panic attacks
Researchers don’t believe that there are any sure ways to prevent panic attacks. However, you may be able to get treatment from NHS staff. If you do receive treatment, you should continue with it so that your symptoms don’t worsen over time. You should also attempt to get regular physical activity. Research shows that being active plays a role in protecting against anxiety in the long term.