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A Panic Attack

Autor: dr Sonja  Ilić   


Panic (the state of panic) is a form of intensive fear from an intensive danger; it very often includes the motor skills which enable an escape from a dangerous situation. In the Western countries it is estimated that very tenth person has a panic attack. One of the reasons for the increase of its frequency is the readiness of people to admit that they are victims of a panic attack. The other reason is a much faster way of life; therefore, the exposure to stress is much bigger.

The causes are different depending on a person. Sometimes only one traumatic experience in childhood is enough to trigger a panic attack every time a person finds themselves in a similar situation. This is a frequent case with persons who were attacked by a dog in their childhood. The first attack can be caused by a long previous exposure to stress, for example, because one has moved, long overtime work, a loss of a beloved person. People are often more vulnerable after a disease, or after a long period of depression, and some also say that inheritory factors can also have influence.

What does a panic attack look like?

A panic attack belongs to anxiety disorders. The basic reason for a panic attack to be enumerated in anxiety disorders according to the modern psychopathological classifications is that it is visibly unexplanatory to the person having it. So, a panic attack can be understood as an impulse of anxiety.

Anxiety can be presented by a various number of symptoms, and different people react to different symptoms. For many people, it is enough to just avoid the things that bother them – it can lead to an entire life becoming structured around avoiding certain situations and objects.

Sometimes, such situations cannot be avoided – years of not seeing a dentist can cause some difficult teeth damage and a need for an urgent treatment, or an encounter that cannot be avoided, when a person with a phobia disorder is forced to enter such a situation the feeling of fear appears, after what a panic attack appears. A panic attack is a strong sudden anxiety characterized by a mixture of bodily and psychological symptoms. They are caused by an avalanche of adrenaline when a man feels threatened. The reaction “attack or run” occurs – an organism wants to run away or to oppose to what is endangering it. Because of the adrenalin when in panic the heart beats stronger, a person cannot take a breath, does not see well, their palms are sweating, the body is shaking, there is nausea and dizziness and a rush of blood into one’s face appears. People often think that they are about to faint, have a heart attack, “go insane” or die. The symptoms die down within a few minutes, but the attacks can be repeated several times for a short period of time so it seems to the affected that there is another attack. With some persons panic attacks are frequent and with some there are only one or two in their lifetime. There are patients who turn their tendency into a chronic condition. With such persons every faster heartbeat can trigger a series of anxiety symptoms, and then a panic attack as well. They acquire a habit of fearing from the next attack and they withdraw within themselves and isolate themselves from every-day activities. Women tend to have panic attacks twice as much as men.

A person that suffers only from panic attacks is psychologically stable (clinically looking), but they very often suffer from unexplanatory and subjective fear that they will go insane, make a scene, start yelling or crying. Sometimes it happens that a person starts to cry, visibly panic, or asks for someone’s help.

First aid and treatment

Persons having panic attacks must learn to kelp themselves, that is, they must learn to control a panic attack. A psychotherapist should point out how to deal with panic attacks, and the most successful methods are to recognize the stages of a panic attack and to react in early phases. As panic attacks are “in the head”, it is important not let the fear to get enormous dimensions, so the fear and the feeling of an incoming danger one should know to “devolve”, that is, to decrease from the very beginning. It is also important to know that physical symptoms are not dangerous, that is, regardless of the subjective feeling that they don’t lead to a heart attack, insanity or nothing of that kind.

It is not bad to express anger, either loudly or quietly, to say to yourself “enough” or “stop”, and during this situation to light up with these positive thoughts. Carrying a rubber band around one’s arm works perfectly, because the pain it creates averts the attention from panicking. Every form of averting from panic is great. Panic attacks, if they appear, should not be resisted. To learn how to observe one’s own condition with being aware that it will pass is one of the key skills in attack control.

The treatment is complicated. Firstly, an organic processing is needed. It is important in order to exclude an organic disease and to calm the patient down in order for them to see that it is not a physical but a psychological disease. In psychiatric treatment medicines (antidepressives and anctiolitics) are given, usually along with a cognitive-behavioral treatment. During the treatment the desire of a patient to live a normal life without limitations is important, so as discipline and patience in treatment.

PhD MD Sonja Ilić

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