Mar 29th 2023
Although the symptoms of a panic attack may sometimes feel like a heart attack, you are not actually in any danger of dying from a panic attack. Understanding more about what is happening to your body during a panic attack, receiving appropriate treatment, and taking care of your physical and mental health can all help to reduce the frequency and severity of panic attacks.
A panic attack is the sudden onset of intense physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety. People who regularly experience panic attacks may be diagnosed with panic disorder, but panic attacks can occur within the context of any anxiety disorder, such as social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and phobias .
Panic attacks can occur at any time – you can get day or night-time panic attacks – and often start suddenly or without warning. This can be very distressing and frightening. Many people who have panic attacks are afraid that they are going to die because the symptoms may resemble that of a heart attack .
The good news is that you cannot die from a panic attack. Although the symptoms of a panic attack may feel very frightening, they cannot cause death .
These symptoms occur due to a sudden release of adrenaline and cortisol in the body. This release is often referred to as the fight or flight response. It increases a person’s blood flow and heart rate to prepare the body for fighting or running away from perceived danger. The reason for the release of adrenaline and cortisol during a panic attack is not due to an actual threat, but because a rush of anxiety caused a stress response .
When these physical changes occur suddenly and for seemingly no reason, it can cause people to believe that they are experiencing a heart attack, as there are many similarities in the symptoms. Also, the fear of physical harm or death can contribute to or cause these symptoms, which can prompt or exacerbate a panic attack .
Having an understanding of what is happening to your body during a panic attack can actually help to reduce the severity of the symptoms you experience by reducing the level of fear associated with the attack .
Most panic attacks last between 5 and 30 minutes. Most symptoms significantly reduce after this time. Typically, you are not in danger of any physical harm during a panic attack. Being able to recognize and understand the physical symptoms that occur can help to reduce the severity and length of your symptoms .
There is some research that suggests that the regular panic attacks associated with panic disorder and chronic anxiety disorders may increase the risk of cardiovascular problems. This is partly due to the increase of stress on the heart that occurs with regular panic attacks .
However, an increased risk of cardiovascular problems is likely to also be related to behavioral risk factors sometimes associated with panic disorder and other anxiety disorders. These include but aren’t limited to: low levels of exercise, smoking, poor diet, and taking medications. These behaviors increase the risk of coronary heart disease and other health concerns, such as obesity and diabetes .
Similarly, people with anxiety disorders such as panic disorder are at increased risk of substance and alcohol misuse, which can also contribute to poor health outcomes .
Many physical health conditions, such as asthma and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), can cause symptoms that are similar to those of a panic attack, thus complicating diagnosis of physical health issues or anxiety disorders .As such, there is no direct cause of serious medical complications resulting from panic attacks. However, people who often experience panic attacks may be at an increased risk of developing certain physical health conditions. For this reason, it is important to form and maintain healthy habits to help prevent worsening physical health in the context of panic disorder or other anxiety disorders .
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