Stress, anxiety and depression

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Are you having panic attacks?

A panic attack is a rush of intense anxiety and physical symptoms.

They can be frightening and happen suddenly, often for no clear reason.

Signs of a panic attack

You may experience:

Some people think they are having a heart attack because it feels like their heart is beating fast or irregularly, or even that they are going to die.

Panic attacks usually last somewhere from 5 to 20 minutes. Although it may feel like something is seriously wrong, they aren't dangerous and shouldn't harm you.

You won’t usually need to be admitted to hospital if you have had a panic attack.

What causes panic attacks?

The physical symptoms of a panic attack are caused by your body going into "fight or flight" mode.

As your body tries to take in more oxygen, your breathing quickens. Your body also releases hormones, such as adrenaline, causing your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up.

Having a panic attack now?  Try these tips for coping with panic attacks.

You may also find that breathing exercises help.

Should you see your doctor about panic attacks?

A panic attack can make you feel like you’re about to collapse or even die, but it's usually harmless. However, in some cases, you may need medical advice to rule out an underlying physical cause.   

Get medical advice if:

  • Your panic attack continues after doing 20 minutes of slow breathing.
  • You still feel unwell after your breathing returns to normal.
  • You still have a rapid or irregular heartbeat or chest pains after your panic attack. 
  • You regularly have panic attacks, as this could be a sign that you have panic disorder.

See what you can do to avoid future panic attacks.

Moodzone: Panic attacks

Dr Chris Williams describes the vicious circle that fuels panic attacks and explains how to tackle this. This podcast is one of an eight-part series for Moodzone.

Media last reviewed: 02/03/2015

Next review due: 02/03/2017

Page last reviewed: 11/12/2015

Next review due: 11/12/2017

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