How to Recognize a Panic Attack


Having general anxiety disorder can come with a long line of symptoms and negative characteristics to deal with on a daily basis. It can be frightening at times to live with anxiety, and the thoughts it brings. However, anxiety can reach new levels when it manifests itself in the form of a panic attack.

If you’ve been dealing with anxiety for awhile, or have some of the symptoms, you may have already experienced a panic attack without knowing. Or, if you haven’t, it could happen at any time. Knowing the signs to look for can help you to cope. When we realize what is happening throughout a panic attack, we can learn different tricks and tips that can, perhaps, help us out of it that much faster.

What are Some Common Signs of a Panic Attack?

General anxiety can leave you with feelings of fear and discomfort regularly. The difference between that consistent anxiety and a panic attack is how sudden and how strong it comes on. A panic attack will happen abruptly, and with force. You’re likely to feel an intense notion of anxiety all at once, and it can last several minutes, peaking at certain points.

Some of the most common symptoms associated with a full-blown panic attack include:
Fear of losing control
Sudden chills
Chest tightness or pain
The sensation of choking
Accelerated heart rate or palpitations

People can experience these symptoms to different degrees, and there are more to consider, but these are some of the most prominent. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, experiencing four or more of these symptoms at once is a sure sign of a panic attack.

How Do I Know It’s Not Something Else?

One of the biggest problems facing people who suffer from these attacks is that they are often misdiagnosed. The symptoms can unfortunately be associated with several different illnesses and disorders, including thyroid disease or heart disease. Even people who go to the ER when facing a panic attack can be given the wrong diagnosis.
Unfortunately, these inaccurate diagnoses leave people with panic attacks to potentially suffer another one. Even if you do recognize the symptoms for what they are, some people choose to do nothing. It can be considered ’embarrassing.’ Some people are even scared to admit they are struggling to their closest family members and friends. However, recognizing the issue for what it is and being open to treatment is the best way to move past it, and live a happier, healthier life.

Is it a Treatable Disorder?

Finding relief from a panic attack isn’t impossible. Once it has been properly diagnosed, your doctor can recommend some type of treatment that will be specific to your situation. For some people, that includes things like regular therapy. For others, a doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medication to be taken at the onset of an attack.

Certain antidepressants can also be regularly taken to help avoid the frequency and severity of panic attacks. Many of these drugs are meant to be taken in a short-term aspect, so ask your doctor about all of your options. Dealing with panic attacks often means dealing with anxiety in general, which often requires the help of a qualified therapist.

Recognizing the issues you may be facing is the first step toward really healing. Panic attacks are nothing to be embarrassed about, and affect more people than you may think. Treatment is readily available – you just have to take the first step.

Dr. Jeffrey Ditzel is a Psychiatrist in New York City and specializes in issues involving Anxiety and Depression.