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The fear and avoidance they inspire can be seriously impairing

What causes panic attacks?

If you think of panic attacks as a malfunctioning alarm system, antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors SSRIs make the system less reactive. Petersen describes the effect of SSRIs as reducing the intensity of worry. The worry monologue can be so loud and so distracting. And these medications, called benzodiazepines, have to be taken very carefully, as they can become addictive, and have dangerous interactions with other medications.

While panic attacks are much more widely understood than they were when Petersen was first experiencing them, she notes that research shows that people who have panic disorder often wait years before they discuss symptoms with a medical professional — or even other people. Being around people who can accept that part of you and support you is super important. Join them. Follow ChildMindInst.

A–Z - Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand

Panic disorder A panic attack develops into something called panic disorder when a person worries so much about having another attack that she begins to avoid places or situations that she associates with them. Related: How to Talk to Your Parents About Getting Help Treatment for panic disorder Research shows that the most successful treatment for panic disorder is a combination of antidepressant medication and cognitive behavioral therapy CBT. Was this helpful? Anxiety , Anxiety Disorders ,. By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Online Privacy Statement, which describes our use of cookies.

By using this site without adjusting your settings, you agree to our use of cookies. Read More. Support your students. Receive practical tips and strategies to better assist your students. Stay connected. Medications can help reduce symptoms associated with panic attacks as well as depression if that's an issue for you.


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Several types of medication have been shown to be effective in managing symptoms of panic attacks, including:. If one medication doesn't work well for you, your doctor may recommend switching to another or combining certain medications to boost effectiveness. Keep in mind that it can take several weeks after first starting a medication to notice an improvement in symptoms. All medications have a risk of side effects, and some may not be recommended in certain situations, such as pregnancy.

Talk with your doctor about possible side effects and risks.

Relax Your Breathing and Muscles

While panic attacks and panic disorder benefit from professional treatment, these self-care steps can help you manage symptoms:. Some dietary supplements have been studied as a treatment for panic disorder, but more research is needed to understand the risks and benefits. Herbal products and dietary supplements aren't monitored by the Food and Drug Administration FDA the same way medications are. You can't always be certain of what you're getting and whether it's safe.

Before trying herbal remedies or dietary supplements, talk to your doctor. Some of these products can interfere with prescription medications or cause dangerous interactions. If you've had signs or symptoms of a panic attack, make an appointment with your primary care provider.

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After an initial evaluation, he or she may refer you to a mental health professional for treatment. Ask a trusted family member or friend to go with you to your appointment, if possible, to lend support and help you remember information.


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Your primary care provider or mental health professional will ask additional questions based on your responses, symptoms and needs. Preparing and anticipating questions will help you make the most of your appointment time. Mayo Clinic does not endorse companies or products. Advertising revenue supports our not-for-profit mission. This content does not have an English version. This content does not have an Arabic version.

Diagnosis Your primary care provider will determine if you have panic attacks, panic disorder or another condition, such as heart or thyroid problems, with symptoms that resemble panic attacks.

Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder

To help pinpoint a diagnosis, you may have: A complete physical exam Blood tests to check your thyroid and other possible conditions and tests on your heart, such as an electrocardiogram ECG or EKG A psychological evaluation to talk about your symptoms, fears or concerns, stressful situations, relationship problems, situations you may be avoiding, and family history. Request an Appointment at Mayo Clinic. Share on: Facebook Twitter. Strangely, when you are over-breathing, you may feel as if you are not getting enough air and breathe even harder.

This makes you feel worse and you get caught in a vicious cycle. For some people panic seems to start out of the blue. They may just have a strong inherited tendency to panic. For others there seem to be obvious stresses in their life. There are often some symptoms of general anxiety or depression, or other phobias, in the months before panic starts. Note, if panic attacks follow an experience that really was extremely dangerous or horrific, like being assaulted or being in an accident, then it is usually part of a different condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

The most obvious symptoms are the panic attacks themselves. These start suddenly, often in a few seconds, sometimes over five or ten minutes. Panic attacks normally last for 10 or 20 minutes but people can feel anxious or shaken up for some hours after. As well as feelings of great anxiety, fear or terror, people may also have many other symptoms, most of which are physical. In an attack you may feel several of the following:. These are all symptoms of severe anxiety.


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Because many of them are physical sensations, people with panic attacks often think that there is something wrong with their body. They may think they are having a heart attack or stroke or that they are dying. They may call an ambulance and be rushed to an emergency medical service. People do not die of panic attacks, even though they may feel that way during an attack.

Panic attacks are common. Many people will have at least one attack during their lifetime. Panic disorder is also quite common. Women are affected twice as often as men. The problem usually starts between the late teenage years and the age of Usually it causes problems for a few months and then lessens. Unfortunately, panic attacks often come back again after a few months or years and a person's avoidance of places or situations for fear of a panic attack may get worse.

One third of people with panic attacks avoid places where they might panic. This is called agoraphobia. Most people who have not been treated for panic will still have some symptoms 10 years later. By then they may have become depressed or have started to overuse alcohol or other drugs because of repeated panic attacks and the restriction in their lives caused by panic. If you fear you might harm or kill yourself it is vital that you seek help immediately. Many people with panic attacks, sooner or later, go to see their doctor or a counsellor. The doctor may do some tests to make sure there are no underlying medical conditions that are causing your symptoms.

They may also refer you to a mental health professional if they suspect you have panic disorder. The most effective treatment for panic related problems is a combination of psychological therapy and medication. Common treatment types include:. Antidepressant or tranquilliser medication in conjunction with therapy has proven effective in improving the symptoms of panic disorder. These are non-medical treatments that address your emotional needs such as your thinking, behaviour, relationships and environment. This involves talking with a trained professional who uses clinically researched techniques, usually talking therapies, to assess and help you understand what has happened, and to help you make positive changes in your life.

Your doctor or mental health professional will give you information about the disorder, suggest different ways to handle it, and discusses any complications which may occur. There are also numerous books available in the shops that some people find to be really useful. They can teach you about some of the ways of dealing with panic attacks and they can also get you used to reading about or discussing problems that you have previously kept completely to yourself.

They are generally written by medical experts but draw on the experience of people who have experienced panic attacks. The term complementary therapy is generally used to indicate therapies and treatments that differ from conventional western medicine and that may be used to complement and support it.

6 Alternative Treatments for Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Certain complementary therapies may enhance your life and help you to maintain wellbeing. In general, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, yoga, exercise, relaxation, massage, mirimiri and aromatherapy have all been shown to have some effect in alleviating mental distress. It's also really important to look after your physical wellbeing.