Symptoms of panic disorder
The symptoms of a panic attack can be very frightening and distressing.
Symptoms tend to occur suddenly, without warning and often for no apparent reason.
As well as overwhelming feelings of anxiety, a panic attack can also cause a variety of other symptoms, including:
- a sensation that your heart is beating irregularly (palpitations)
- hot flushes
- shortness of breath
- a choking sensation
- chest pain
- feeling faint
- numbness or pins and needles
- dry mouth
- a need to go to the toilet
- ringing in your ears
- a feeling of dread or a fear of dying
- a churning stomach
- a tingling sensation in your fingers
The physical symptoms of a panic attack are unpleasant, and they can also be accompanied by thoughts of fear and terror.
For this reason, people with panic disorder start to fear the next attack, which creates a cycle of living in ‘fear of fear’ and adds to the sense of panic.
Sometimes, the symptoms of a panic attack can be so intense they can make you feel like you're having a heart attack.
However, it's important to be aware that symptoms such as a racing heartbeat and shortness of breath won't result in you having a heart attack. Although panic attacks can often be frightening, they don't cause any physical harm. People who have had panic disorder for some time usually learn to recognise this 'heart attack sensation' and become more aware of how to control their symptoms.
Most panic attacks last for five to 20 minutes. Some attacks have been reported to have lasted up to an hour. However, it's likely that in these cases one attack occurred straight after another or high levels of anxiety were felt after the first attack.
Recurrent panic attacks
People with panic disorder have panic attacks on a recurring basis. Some people have attacks once or twice a month, while others have them several times a week.
People with panic disorder also tend to have ongoing and constant feelings of worry and anxiety. The panic attacks associated with panic disorder can be very unpredictable.
If you have panic disorder, you may also feel anxious about when your next attack will be.
During a panic attack your symptoms can be so intense and out of your control that you can feel detached from the situation, your body and your surroundings. It can almost feel as if you're an observer, making the situation seem very unreal.
This sense of detachment is known as depersonalisation. Being detached from the situation doesn't provide any relief or make a panic attack less frightening. Instead, it often makes the experience more confusing and disorientating.
Page last reviewed: 15/08/2014
Next review due: 15/08/2016