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Panic Attacks

- Summary
- About panic attacks
- Potential causes
- Signs and symptoms
- Diagnosis methods
- Treatment options
- Prevention methods
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Steven A. King, M.D.
Tahir Tellioglu, M.D., APA, AAAP


Panic attacks are sudden episodes of fear and anxiety that usually last for between 10 and 30 minutes and cause symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, heavy perspiration and shortness of breath. Although panic attacks are usually medically harmless, they can be extremely frightening, and often feel like a heart attack. Therefore, many people seek emergency medical care for their symptoms.

The exact cause of panic attacks is not understood, although stress, various biochemical factors and heredity are all believed to contribute to attacks. In some cases, panic attacks may be the result of an associated mental condition or disorder. For instance, anxiety disorders, such as phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder, can cause panic attacks.

Patients should notify their physician if panic attacks occur frequently or interfere with daily functioning. A person who has four or more panic attacks on a monthly basis is usually diagnosed with a condition called panic disorder. Both panic attacks and panic disorder are highly treatable conditions that usually respond to a combination of medicine and psychotherapy. Various relaxation techniques and other stress-relieving measures can help prevent panic attacks.

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Review Date: 07-30-2007

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