Panic attacks

What is a panic attack?

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Understanding panic attacks

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A panic attack is a sudden rush of intense anxiety or fear together with a surge of frightening physical sensations and thoughts.

These can include:

  • A racing heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Trembling
  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Muscle tension.

Thoughts can include:

  • Feeling like you may be out of physical or emotional control
  • Dying
  • Having a heart attack or stroke
  • Going to pass out.

Panic attacks are usually brief but may be terrifying while they last. They can often come on unexpectedly, which makes them even scarier and are often not related to any external threat.

I'd be in a lecture and then just all of a sudden I'd get distracted, start thinking, and then I'd have a panic attack.

What are panic disorders and agoraphobia?

Panic disorders develop when people experience recurring and unexpected panic attacks. People with panic disorder will sometimes begin to restrict their lives because of the attacks. They may stop going to public places or stop using public transport because they fear having an attack there. This problem is referred to as agoraphobia.

Download our panic attacks factsheet.

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