The symptoms of a panic attack include elevated anxiety, heart palpitations, hyperventilation, muscle pain, dizziness and sweating. There is often a fear of totally losing control or dying. These can develop into a panic disorder, where the attacks are intense and frequent. If untreated, a panic disorder can be a debilitating condition, which severely restricts quality of life. Panic attacks can occur at any time, repeatedly and without warning.
The physical symptoms of a panic attack are extreme versions of our body’s normal responses to danger. Adrenaline causes the heart to beat faster, and the breathing rate to increase in order to supply major muscles with more oxygen.
Blood is diverted away from non-essential areas, including the stomach, brain and hands, often causing digestive problems, dizziness and tingling or numbness in the hands. Pupils dilate for more acute vision and this can cause difficulty with bright lights or distortion of vision.
Sometimes it may appear that the walls are closing in, or inanimate objects may even appear to move. It is common to think the symptoms are due to a major health problem, such as a heart attack, brain tumour or mental illness. This fear causes more adrenaline to be released and can lead to a worsening cycle.