Keeping panic attacks under control Keeping panic attacks under control

Being able to identify an attack is critical to finding the right treatment and leading an optimal quality of life.

Medical advisor Cristian Vargas Upegui, psychiatrist

Some of the most common symptoms of a panic attack include a fear of losing control, going insane, dying or having a heart attack. “It is an experience that is hard to forget, that no one would want to repeat,” explains Cristian Vargas Upegui, a psychiatrist from the University of Antioquia.

This type of crisis often comes unexpected and if not diagnosed on time, can leave those who experience it feeling disoriented. Many patients visit a psychiatrist only after years of seeing different doctors, cardiologists and internal medicine physicians. “Since their symptoms are similar to those of a heart attack, other conditions must first be ruled out. After someone has two or more panic attacks, this is the point at which it is considered a condition that should be treated and managed by professionals”, Vargas adds.

Some of the clearest physical warning signs of a panic attack are heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, breathlessness, a chocking feeling, chest discomfort, nausea and dizziness. Affecting 30% of the world’s population, the World Health Organization (WHO) considers panic attacks to be one of the most common anxiety disorders.

Keeping a positive attitude

Despite this unpromising outlook, this disorder can be treated and can be kept at bay provided that the person incorporates certain habits as part of her or her daily life. These include reducing the intake of stimulants such as coffee, energy drinks, drugs and alcoholic beverages; practicing good sleep hygiene and getting regular aerobic exercise. These practices should be done in addition to psychotherapy, which can help people understand their behaviors and how to change them, as well as help transform the negative or catastrophic thoughts that occur before and during a crisis.

Hereditary factors should not be forgotten, as they can play a significant role in causing these attacks. Coping with depression can also be a trigger.

During a panic attack, symptoms normally worsen for no longer than 30 minutes; however, the person that experienced it often left with a deep fear that it can happen again at any moment. It is therefore best to become informed about this issue, seek specialized support and continue with follow-up care to prevent a lower quality of life over time. One of the best ways to deal with a panic attack is to control your breathing and have an understanding of what is happening.

When a panic attack has occurred more than once, it is considered an anxiety disorder. To confirm a diagnosis, see your doctor.

Recurrent panic attacks

Repetitive panic attacks can change a person’s behavior and performance at home, work or at school. The effects of people’s panic attacks often leave them feeling worried.

There is no way to predict a panic attack. At least in its early stages, there is no trigger for it. Remembering a previous event can cause such an attack.

Among its other benefits, patients that receive psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral therapy) learn to recognize and replace the thoughts that make them panic; they learn to manage stress and to relax when symptoms arise.