Skip to main content

Panic attack

Panic attack

Definition

Panic attacks, the hallmark of panic disorder , are discrete episodes of intense anxiety. Panic attacks can also be experienced by people with specific phobia, social phobia , or by people who have used or consumed certain substances, such as cocaine.

Description

Panic attacks are intense anxiety experiences that are usually accompanied by symptoms in the affected person's body and thinking. The panic attack can occur unexpectedly during early stages of panic disorder illness. As panic disorder progresses, panic attacks may become associated with certain situations that trigger attacks. Panic attacks triggered by a specific experience are called situational panic attacks, since a certain situation initiates the intense anxiety.

Persons affected with panic attacks usually exhibit a broad range of clinical signs and symptoms that include:

  • heart palpitations (accelerated heart rate)
  • shaking or trembling
  • sweating
  • shortness of breath or sensation of feeling smothered or choked
  • feeling of tingling
  • chest discomfort or pain
  • nausea or abdominal distress
  • feeling dizzy, light headed, unsteady or faint
  • perceptions of being detached from oneself (depersonalization ), or a feeling out of touch with reality (derealization)
  • chills or hot flashes
  • fear of dying
  • fear of going crazy or losing control

A person meets the criteria for a panic attack if the symptoms start abruptly, reach a quick peak (usually within 10 minutes), and if the affected individual has at least four symptoms as listed above. In persons who have less than four symptoms during an attack, the disorder is called a limited symptom attack.

It is typical that affected persons who seek treatment usually have one to two attacks a week and in worse periods may have one daily attacks or several within a week.

As stated, panic attacks can be experienced as a result of stimulant chemical usage, such as cocaine usage. There is evidence to suggest that persons with panic attacks are sensitive to certain chemicals such as caffeine, carbon dioxide, antihistamines, and, in women, progesterone replacement. Exposure to these substances may precipitate an attack.

Resources

BOOKS

Rakel, Robert E. Conn's Current Therapy. 54th ed. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company, 2002.

Tasman, Allan. Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company, 1997.

Laith Farid Gulli, M.D. Jean Suvan, B.S., RDH

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Panic attack." Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Panic attack." Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/panic-attack

"Panic attack." Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. . Retrieved August 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/panic-attack

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.