Panic and Its Effects

One afternoon while she was preparing dinner in her kitchen, Anne Peters, a 32-year-old American housewife, suddenly had severe pains in her chest accompanied by shortness of breath. Frightened by the thought that she was having a heart attack, Anne screamed for help. Her husband immediately rushed Anne to a nearby hospital where her pains were diagnosed as having been caused by panic, and not a heart attack.

More and more Americans nowadays are having panic attacks like the one experienced by Anne Peters. Benjamin Crocker, a psychologist at the University of Southern California, reveal that as many as ten million adult Americans have already experienced or will experience at least one panic attack in their lifetime. Moreover, studies conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health in the United States disclose that approximately 1.2 million adult individuals are currently suffering from severe and recurrent panic attacks.

These attacks may last for only a few minutes; some, however, continue for several hours. The symptoms of panic attacks bear such remarkable similarity to those of heart attacks that many victims believe that they are indeed having a heart attack.

Panic attack victims show the following symptoms: they often become easily frightened or feel uneasy in situations where people normally would not be afraid; they suffer shortness of breath, experience chest pains, a quick heartbeat, sudden fits of trembling, a feeling that persons and things around them are not real; and most of all, a fear of dying or going crazy. A person seized by a panic attack may show all or as few as four of these symptoms.

There has been a lot of explanations as to the causes of panic attacks. Many claim that psychological stress could be a logical cause, but as yet, no evidence has been found to support this theory. However, studies show that more women than men experience panic attacks and people who drink a lot as well as those who use drugs are more likely to suffer attacks.

It is reported that there are at least three signs that indicate a person is suffering from a panic attack rather than a heart attack. The first is age. People between the ages of 20 and 30 are more often victims of panic attacks. The second is sex. More women suffer from recurrent panic attacks than men. The third is the multiplicity of symptoms. A panic attack victim usually suffers at least four of the previously mentioned symptoms, while a heart attack victim often experiences only pain and shortness of breath.

It is generally agreed that a panic attack does not directly endanger a person's life. All the same, it can unnecessarily disrupt a person's life by making him or her so afraid of having a panic attack in a public place that he or she may refuse to leave home and may eventually become isolated form the rest of society. Dr. Crocker's advice to any person who thinks he is suffering from a panic attack is to consult a doctor for a medical examination to rule out the possibilities of physical illness first. Once it has been confirmed that he or she is, in fact, suffering from a panic attack, the victim should seek psychological and medical help.