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Updated June 10, 2015.

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

 Here you will answers to your questions about the symptoms of panic attacks

1. Did I Have a Panic Attack?


Panic attacks often occur without any warning, suddenly causing feelings of fear, anxiety, and dread. These emotions are typically accompanied by uncomfortable physical sensations. Common somatic symptoms that occur during a panic attack include:

Aside from emotional and physical symptoms, it is also not uncommon to experience cognitive symptoms. During a panic attack, a person may be faced with depersonalization and derealization, feeling as though you are disconnected from yourself, your surroundings, or of reality itself. You may become fearful for your safety, mental stability, and even your life. 

If you have gone through some or all of these symptoms, you may be wondering if you had a panic attack. The only way to be certain that your symptoms indicate you had a panic attack is to schedule an appointment with your physician. He will be able to determine if your symptoms are related to panic disorder or another mental health or medical condition. Once your doctor has determined your diagnosis, he will be able to provide you with further information on your condition, treatment options, and any necessary referrals. More »

2. Are All Panic Attacks the Same?


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) is the handbook used by mental health providers for diagnostic purposes. According to information outlined in the DSM-5, panic attacks are listed as a potential qualifier of a mental health condition. Additionally, panic attacks fall into one of two categories: unexpected and expected panic attacks.

Expected panic attacks are anticipated and occur due to a specific trigger. These types of panic attacks are often linked to specific phobias. For example, a person with a fear of heights may predictably have a panic attack when in an airplane or tall building. A person who has a fear of closed spaces (claustrophobia) may anticipate having a panic attack while in an elevator or other restricted area. 

Unexpected panic attacks, on the other hand, occur suddenly, without any warning or signs. Unlike expected panic attacks, the person does not experience any external cues, such as phobia triggers in the environment. The person is also not consciously aware of any internal cues before the attack sets in, including upsetting emotions, fearful thoughts, or uncomfortable physical sensations. Unexpected panic attacks are the main feature of panic disorder and are also often associated with agoraphobia.More »

3. Can I Have A Panic Attack While I’m Sleeping?


It is possible to have a panic attack that awakens you out of your sleep. Such attacks are called nocturnal panic attacks and can contribute to different sleep disturbances. These attacks keep you from getting a good night’s rest, as it can be difficult to fall back asleep after experiencing a nocturnal panic attack. These attacks can also have consequences during the day, potentially preventing your from concentrating, completing tasks, and feeling well-rested. More »

4. How Can I Stop a Panic Attack?


Given how challenging the symptoms of panic attacks can be, it is understandable that you would want to try to stop these symptoms in their tracks. However, when panic strikes it is often best to allow the symptoms to run their course. Resisting your panic attack symptoms may actually increase your feelings of fear, nervousness, and anxiety.

The next time you have a panic attack, attempt to give in to your symptoms. Remind yourself that your symptoms will soon pass and that they cannot hurt you. When physical sensations and feelings of dread set in, try a deep breathing exercise to get through it. Not only will taking deep breaths help you feel calmer, but it can also assist you in bringing your attention elsewhere as you allow the panic attack to run its course. More »

5. How Are Panic Attack Symptoms Treated?


It may not be possible for you to stop experiencing panic attack symptoms altogether, but you may be able to more easily control them through treatment. Panic attacks are typically treated through a combination of psychotherapy and prescribed medications. By attending psychotherapy, you can learn strategies to help you get through a panic attack, work through issues related to anxiety, and develop healthier ways of coping with your symptoms. More »

6. What Are the Best Medications for Panic Attacks?


Medications are often used in conjunction with psychotherapy to help reduce the symptoms of panic attacks. Medications are typically prescribed for a limited period of time as you learn new techniques to help you deal with them. It is not possible to determine one medication that would be best for all panic attack sufferers, as symptoms can vary from person-to-person. However, antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications are the most frequently prescribed types of medications to treat panic attacks.  

Antidepressants are often prescribed to help lessen anxiety and panic attacks. This class of medication influences certain chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, in the brain. Some neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, are considered "imbalanced" for those with mood and anxiety disorders. Common classes of antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), can help bring balance back to these neurotransmitters.  

Anti-anxiety medications similarly work to impact neurotransmitters. These types of medications affect the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitters, which are partly responsible for regulating sleep, anxiety, and feelings of relaxation. Also referred to as benzodiazepines, sedatives, or tranquilizers, these medications are known to have a sedative or tranquilizing effect. Anti-anxiety medications rapidly reduce the symptoms of a panic attack, allowing the person to quickly feel calmer and more relaxed.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Batelaan, N. M., Van BalkomStein, A. J., and Stein, D. (2012). Evidence-based Pharmacotherapy of Panic Disorder: An Update. The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 15, 403-415.More »
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